PRESIDENT Duterte has sent a strong message against corruption when he sacked Interior Secretary Ismael D. Sueno during a Cabinet meeting on Monday. Pundits see the dismissal as a warning to members of the Cabinet that the Chief Executive will not countenance any questionable decisions they make, and he would fire high-ranking officials caught in allegations of corruption. Most everyone knows that Sueno was instrumental in convincing Duterte to run for president. But this did not stop the President from pursuing his drive for a clean and trustworthy government, even at the expense of close friends.
The accusation that allegedly annoyed the President was Sueno’s facilitation of the implementation of a contract for Austrian fire trucks that cost around P20 million each, when similar fire trucks could be procured for half the price. The interior secretary allegedly traveled to Austria with his family to personally ensure the delivery of 76 fire trucks, notwithstanding that the government contract is the subject of a case pending with the Supreme Court.
According to an official present at the Cabinet meeting, the President gave Sueno a chance to explain after he listed down the allegations brought to his attention by three undersecretaries of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). But when Duterte asked Sueno if he, indeed, traveled to Austria, and if he knew about the issues hounding the government contract, the answer he got irritated him. “It’s either you’re taking me for a stupid idiot or you’re lying to your teeth,” Duterte reportedly said. Apparently, the President relied on more than just the claims of the three DILG undersecretaries as basis for his decision to fire Sueno.
Rep. Rozzano Rufino B. Biazon said Duterte showed remarkable political will in firing Sueno, since the latter was a prime mover in the President’s campaign. “This shows the President’s intolerance of corruption within his administration,” he said.
Earlier, the President sacked Peter T. Laviña—his campaign spokesman from Davao—as head of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) based on corruption allegations.
Reports said Laviña was asked to resign after some NIA directors informed the President about Laviña’s alleged overtures to them. The NIA chief would allegedly call these directors and identify projects the regional office had and tell them, “It’s up to you to take care of me”. This infuriated Duterte and sealed Laviña’s fate.
Laviña denied corruption allegations, and said he decided to resign “to spare the President from these embarrassing stories, particularly in these times of intensified attacks on him”. But Duterte’s words were clear: “When I said there will be no corruption, there will be no corruption. As a matter of fact, I fired last night one official from Davao for simply making a remark. And I told him, even a whiff of corruption, I will fire you. So I’m doing my part.”
In the world of politics, political will is the motive force that generates firm action for the common good. Duterte’s drive for a clean and honest government deserves encouragement and support. Filipinos must be lucky to have a President who hates corrupt officials and who is determined to promote change. With the people’s help, Duterte’s campaign against corruption in the government may yet succeed.