Philippine President Duterte fires interior minister amid corruption allegations
Spokesman says sacking serves as a warning to all other presidential appointees
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has fired his interior minister for “loss of trust and confidence”, the most senior government executive to be removed for corruption issues.
The firebrand Duterte came to power 10 months ago on a platform of fighting drugs, crime and corruption to grow the economy. He has removed dozens of bureaucrats, two senior immigration officials and a former campaign spokesman from positions on corruption issues.
“Duterte has dismissed Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary, Mr. Ismael Sueno, citing loss of trust and confidence,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement, adding the sacking serves as a warning to all other presidential appointees.
Duterte made the announcement at the end of a cabinet meeting on Monday night, he said.
“The secretary had, in fact, been instrumental in convincing the president to run for election, but this did not deter the president from pursuing his drive for a trustworthy government by addressing issues like corruption,” said the spokesman.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre in a radio interview also confirmed the dismissal of Sueno from the Cabinet but did not give any reason for the president’s decision.
In February, Sueno helped organised a pro-Duterte rally, where more than 200,000 people attended, to counter a mass protest denouncing allegations of extra-judicial killings under Duterte’s anti-narcotics campaign.
There had been rumours about Sueno’s unexplained acquisition of properties, including sudden improvements in his farm in the south.
Three of Sueno’s deputies had written to Duterte complaining about his activities.
In a statement issued Monday, hours before his sacking, Sueno, 69, vigorously denied any involvement in corruption, blaming other followers of Duterte for circulating such allegations against him.
“My advocacy against corruption has been strong. My belief is the same as President Duterte in fighting this. So this accusation against me is impossible,” said Sueno, a former provincial governor and city mayor.
Sueno said he was being badmouthed by three junior ministers in the Department of the Interior and Local Government, like him also appointed by Duterte.
Asked if Sueno might face further charges, Abella told reporters: “Let us wait for the president to take his subsequent actions.”
Sueno’s sacking comes a month after Perfecto Yasay left his post as foreign minister after Congress ruled that he lied to them over his US citizenship.
Abella said the loss of another cabinet member was not a sign of trouble but proof that Duterte was serious about restoring trust in government.
He did not say who would replace Sueno, though there has been speculation Duterte would appoint Ferdinand Marcos Jnr, son of the late Philippine dictator.
Former senator Marcos Jnr lost the vice presidential election last year but is contesting the outcome at an election tribunal.
In Congress, two other close Duterte allies, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Congressman Antonio Floirendo, have been publicly feuding for weeks with Duterte trying to stay out of the quarrel.
Alvarez has accused Floirendo, a key contributor in the Duterte election campaign, of corruption, but Floirendo denies the charge.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse