President Rodrigo Duterte sacks interior minister over graft allegations

Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa (left) walks with former Department of Interior and Local Government secretary Ismael Sueno after a wreath-laying ceremony for policemen killed in action, during the Philippine National Police celebra
Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa (left) walks with former Department of Interior and Local Government secretary Ismael Sueno after a wreath-laying ceremony for policemen killed in action, during the Philippine National Police celebration.PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte has sacked his interior minister Ismael Sueno over allegations of corruption.

In a statement issued early Tuesday (April 4) morning, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Mr Sueno, who campaigned for Mr Duterte and has been backing efforts to unseat Vice-President Leni Robredo, was dismissed during a Cabinet meeting on Monday due to "loss of trust and confidence".

"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," said Mr Abella.

"(Mr Sueno) 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."

Mr Sueno was fired after three of his under-secretaries accused him of using government money to build a new hotel, expand his farm in South Cotabato province, south of the capital Manila, and buy new trucks for his rice business.

They accused him of purchasing 76 fire engines at 20 million pesos (S$1.5 million) each, when the actual price of each vehicle is just seven million pesos.

The under-secretaries also alleged that a grandson of Mr Sueno was involved in illegal gambling, and the latter also intervened with the operations of an anti-narcotics unit to exonerate a mayor.

In response, Mr Sueno said the three under-secretaries were resentful because he clipped their powers.

"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," he said.

Mr Sueno said the hotel is owned by his brother, and the fire engines were paid for by his daughter for the family rice business.

Mr Sueno was a former mayor and governor, and was among those who formed the Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte-National Executive Coordinating Committee, a volunteer organisation that campaigned for Mr Duterte in last year's elections.

rdancel@sph.com.sg