Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, known for his bloody war on drugs, used the Monday firing of the ally who oversaw that war to reassert a promise to sack anyone at the “first whiff” of corruption.
Government spokesperson Ernesto Abella confirmed Tuesday that Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Ismael “Mike” Sueno had been sacked Monday night after a Cabinet meeting due to a “loss of trust and confidence.”
“I do not have to belabor the point,” Duterte said afterward. “Just remember my promises to the people: no corruption, drugs, criminality.”
In his former role, Sueno oversaw the war on drugs and vigorously defended Duterte against criticism. Sueno was a longtime supporter of Duterte who helped convince him to run for the presidency. According to Abella, however, Duterte’s close relationship with Sueno did not stop the president “from pursuing his drive for a trustworthy government by addressing issues like corruption.”
Sueno has been accused of a range of crimes based on accusations made by three former subordinates, with charges including abuse of power and enriching himself while in office. According to a report of Monday’s cabinet meeting, Duterte was particularly incensed by one allegation related to the purchase of fire trucks from Austria, which cost twice as much as they would have from other sources.
The 69-year-old Sueno said he “wholeheartedly” accepted the decision, but he also maintained his innocence. “For the record, Mr. President, and I can say this with all honesty and sincerity, I am not corrupt.”
Since he took power last June, Duterte has made a show of firing dozens of bureaucrats as well as two senior officials and a former campaign manager. Sueno’s ouster is seen as Duterte’s strongest statement yet, and comes shortly after an opposition lawmaker filed impeachment charges against Duterte due to alleged graft and corruption.
Sueno’s dismissal also comes a month after Duterte’s former campaign spokesperson Peter Tiu Laviña, who was head of the National Irrigation Administration, left his post while facing down corruption charges.
Duterte, who has admitted to personally killing criminals during his two decades as mayor of his hometown of Davao City, has been criticized by the international community and human rights organizations for his brutal war on drugs, which has given police officers a free hand in delivering lethal justice to anyone they so much as suspect of involvement in the narcotics trade.
More than 7,000 people have been killed in “summary executions” since Duterte began his war on drugs last June, Philippines Vice President Leni Robredo said during a meeting at the U.N. Commission on Drugs in March.
The firing of Sueno will hardly silence critics of Duterte’s administration. Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said corruption remained “rampant” in the government and called the firing of Sueno “a convenient excuse.” Duterte, he said, was “using political convenience: They’re going to put a spin on it and make it appear there’s an anti-corruption drive happening.”