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DILG secretary dismissed over firetrucks deal

Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno lost his job because of a row with his three undersecretaries in the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) over the right to sign contracts and promotions, according to a spokesperson for the agency.

But according to one of those officials, Sueno was fired because of irregularity in the purchase of firetrucks from Austria.

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Interior Undersecretary for Public Safety Jesus Hinlo said Sueno was sacked because of his involvement in the purchase of the firetrucks without a competitive public bidding.

“There is a [case pending in] the Supreme Court involving the firetrucks but Sueno still proceeded with the transaction,” Hinlo said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

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“There should be due diligence, that’s the issue that I think weighed heavily in the decision of the President,” he said.

Legal opinion

Hinlo could be right, as Mr. Duterte, in a speech at the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) on Tuesday night, referred to a legal opinion that Sueno had told him he knew nothing about.

“If you answer me with that kind of statement, that you never read the legal opinion of the legal officer of your own office, it’s either you’re taking me for stupid, an idiot, or you are lying through your teeth,” Mr. Duterte said.

“That’s why I said son of a bitch. So I said, ‘You’re fired.
I simply said, ‘You’re fired,’” he said.

Malacañang said earlier on Tuesday that Mr. Duterte sacked Sueno for “loss of trust and confidence.”

Sueno had a reported rift with his three undersecretaries, who accused him of corruption, shielding a politician linked to illegal drugs and other wrongdoings.

Mr. Duterte questioned Sueno about his activities before sacking him on Monday, presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said on Tuesday.

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Warning to others

He said Sueno’s dismissal should serve as a warning to other government officials that Mr. Duterte would not tolerate any wrongdoing even in his Cabinet.

Sueno’s dismissal took effect right after Mr. Duterte’s pronouncement on Monday, according to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.

An officer in charge for the DILG will be announced soonest, he added.

At the Philippine Army headquarters, Mr. Duterte told reporters that he was looking for a replacement for Sueno but he would not name former Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to the top DILG post because Marcos had a pending electoral protest concerning his loss in last year’s vice presidential election to Leni Robredo.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Ismael “Mike” Sueno  KING RODRIGUEZ/PPD

Interior and Local Government Secretary Ismael “Mike” Sueno  KING RODRIGUEZ/PPD

“No, I don’t think so. He would abandon his appeal. He would have to let go of it. When you are appointed to a position, it would be lost for all intents and purposes,” Mr. Duterte said.

Sueno was fired at the end of the Cabinet meeting in Malacañang late on Monday, the same day he parried calls from his underlings in the DILG for his investigation for the purchase of firetrucks from Austria worth P20 million even though there were alternatives available for just P7 million.

Abella declined to provide details of what Mr. Duterte had found about Sueno.

He said, however, that Mr. Duterte had checked the activities of Sueno. Among the questions that Mr. Duterte asked Sueno, Abella said, was whether he had traveled to a certain country and whether he knew the background of a certain situation.

“The President was quite open and frank in questioning the secretary, initially, in fact, at the beginning of the meeting,” Abella said.

After questioning Sueno, Mr. Duterte moved on to other topics and the Cabinet meeting went on for several hours.

When Mr. Duterte made a closing statement, he announced that he was letting Sueno go.

A “short exchange” followed, Abella said, but gave no details.

He said the reason for Sueno’s dismissal went beyond the complaints of DILG officials.

It wasn’t clear whether Sueno would be formally investigated and possibly prosecuted.

‘I’m not corrupt’

In a statement, Sueno insisted on his innocence, but said he respected Mr. Duterte’s decision.

“I wholeheartedly accept the decision of the President. It is his call if he wants me in his Cabinet or not. But for the record, Mr. President, and I can say this with all honesty and sincerity, I am not corrupt,” Sueno said.

He said Mr. Duterte was given “wrong information by those salivating” for his post from the start.

“I just wished the information was validated. If only the President asked DILG personnel from the central down to the regional and field offices, he would have known who among us are more credible and trustworthy,” he said.

Sueno said he was ready to face any investigation to clear his name.

Assistant Secretary Ricojudge Janvier Echiverri early on Tuesday said the row between Sueno and his three undersecretaries—Hinlo, John Castriciones and Emily Padilla—erupted after Sueno decided to retain the executive right to approve promotions and contracts.

Echiverri said that some people in the DILG felt that if Sueno had to go, then his critics should also go.

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TAGS: Department of the Interior and Local Government, Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno, Philippine news updates
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