Duterte fires Local Gov’t Secretary Sueno

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / April 4) — Citing “loss of trust and confidence,” President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night fired Local Governments Secretary Ismael “Mike” Sueno, the highest ranking official he has dismissed in his nine months as President.

“The announcement was made at the end of the 14th Cabinet meeting,” Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said.  Monday’s meeting ended shortly before midnight.

“The President had earlier asked a few questions of Mr. Sueno but the summary dismissal served as a warning that Mr. Duterte would not countenance any questionable or legally untenable decisions by any member of the Cabinet,” Abella said.

Secretary Ismael “Mike”Sueno of the Department of Interior and Local Governments Secretary in this file photo on August 22, 2016 talks about DILG’s “Masa Masid” program during a press briefing in Malacañan. TOTO LOZANO / PPD

Abella’s statement did not say if Sueno was in the Cabinet meeting. But MindaNews sources said Sueno was in the meeting when Duterte announced his decision.

MindaNews tried to reach Sueno by phone but one phone just kept ringing and the other was always busy. He did not answer text messages.

Sueno, OIC Governor of South Cotabato from 1986 to 1988 and elected Governor from 1988 to 1992, was among those instrumental in convincing Duterte to run for President, through the Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte-National Executive Coordinating Council Committee (MRRD-NECC).

Abella said “this did not deter the President from pursuing his drive for a trustworthy government by addressing issues like corruption.”

The Philippine Star on April 3 reported that Sueno was at loggerheads with three of his undersecretaries who accused him of corruption and other abuses, that, among others, he built a hotel in Koronadal City, purchased trucks for his rice business, tried to intervene to clear a mayor from Misamis Occidental who was on the narco list, that he allowed the purchase of fire trucks at P20 million each or almost thrice what could have been purchased at P7 million.

Sueno denied the accusations.

He told the Star that he asked Duterte in a meeting last month to remove Undersecretaries John Castriciones (Operations); Jesus Hinlo (Public Safety); and Emilie Padilla (Legislative Liaison and Special Concerns), citing “irreconcilable differences.”

Like Sueno, the three undersecretaries are members of the MRRD-NECC.

The Star reported that Sueno’s move was in reaction to a four-page unsigned letter addressed to Duterte, a copy of which was obtained by the newspaper, containing the allegations against Sueno and urging the President to remove Sueno “otherwise he will create more harm against the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government) and cause injustice to the Filipino people by abusing his power and position.”

In a press release issued by the DILG on Monday, Sueno denied he is abusing his power and position as head of the DILG.

“Mula noon hanggang ngayon, malakas ang adbokasiya ko laban sa corruption. Pareho kami ng paniniwala at ng paninindigan ng Pangulong Duterte laban dito. Kaya imposible ang mga akusasyon nila laban sa akin” (Then and now, I am strong in my advocacy to fight corruption. I share with President Duterte the same belief and commitment Sueno said at the flag-raising ceremony Monday.

He said it appears that “from the very start, they want my head and are out to discredit me because they want somebody else to head the Department.”

Sueno also made it clear that he never told the Undersecretaries that their loyalty should be to him, and not to the President, as alleged in the letter.

“This is a big lie. My prayer has always been for God to make me humbler than I was yesterday. I have always recognized the authority of the President and in the same way, I have encouraged my officials to do the same,” the DILG press release quoted him as saying.

Sueno said he serves at the pleasure of the President.

“Whatever the President’s decision may be, I believe that it will be a wise one,” Sueno was quoted as saying.

Monday’s flag ceremony at the DILG turned out to be the last for Sueno, and the Cabinet meeting the last he attended in his nine-month stint as Local Governments Secretary. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)