Two days after firing Local Government Secretary Ismael Sueno, President Rodrigo Duterte vowed Wednesday to dismiss more officials tagged in corruption even if the allegations are not true.
The latest official to be axed was a holdover undersecretary who reviewed the decision of the National Food Authority to deny rice importation.
“I will continue to fire people, the first whiff, maamoy ko lang, maski na hindi totoo (if I smell something, even if it is not true), you're out,” Duterte said during an agriculture event in Talavera, Nueva Ecija.
“I was appalled that an undersecretary, they reviewed the decision of (NFA administrator) Jason Aquino denying importation… and it was appealed in Malacañan. Filed in the Office of the President,” he added.
“Sabi ko, ‘Anong mukha ko na iharap ko sa farmers (I said ‘how do I face the farmers)? Why would we allow importation to compete with local product?’ Hanggang ngayon, hindi ko mabasa anong ginawa nilang rason (Until now, I cannot figure out their reason for doing that). Of course, hindi natuloy dahil binara ko (it did not push through because I stopped it).”
Duterte did not name names but Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol later on said that the dismissed official was Halmen Valdez.
“On my way here, I was about to land, I said ‘Call Malacañang. She’s fired. So she’s second. There are two more undersecretaries,” the president said.
“At the end of the day, mamaya, meron nang mga lima (there about five) in a week. Kaya hindi ako magda-dalawalang isip. Maski kaibigan kita (I won’t think twice, even if you are my friend),” he added.
NFA Administrator Aquino himself was facing serious disciplinary sanctions over his repeated defiance of Executive Order No. 1, the NFA Council’s decision to extend rice importation under the minimum access volume scheme, in March.
“The NFA administrator has actively refused to implement the lawful orders of the NFA Council and directives of the CabSec (Cabinet Secretary) and even released a statement countering the council’s decision that the MAV has been extended to March 31,” Evasco said then.
Philippine Coconut Authority mess
Valdez was an undersecretary under the Office of Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco and was an appointee of former President Benigno Aquino III.
Valdez figured in a controversy recently after Philippine Coconut Authority Administrator Avelino Andal, who was suspended over allegations of corruption, claimed that she was influencing Evasco to issue various orders.
Andal also accused Valdez of being involved in efforts by Aquino supporters to undermine the Duterte administration.
Valdez said in an earlier interview that she was thinking whether to file cases against Andal for issuing “libelous statements.”
Andal had been ordered put on preventive suspension in a resolution led by Evasco. Andal had been accused of collecting money from lumber from coconut trees that had to be cut as part of post-cocolisap treatment.
Officials fired or made to resign
Valdez was dismissed two days after Duterte fired Sueno, who was accused of corruption, amassing questionable wealth and abuse of power.
Sueno, one of those who convinced Duterte to run for president, has denied the allegations. He offered to have himself investigated but was fired before that could happen.
Duterte also mentioned the dismissal of his longtime friend, former National Irrigation Administration chief Peter Lavina, who was accused of asking money from contractors. Laviña has denied the allegations and claimed that he was a victim of a hatchet job.
“He (Laviña) was with me in 1988 when I became mayor. When I became president, he was there,” he said.
“Ngayon pa siya nagkalat (He just made a mess). I have to fire him. I was looking at the budget of NIA. It’s P150 billion. Now, if you start to f*** with the money, malaki ang mawawala talaga sa gobyerno (the government will lose a lot of money).”
Duterte stressed that he would not condone any form of corruption while he is president, noting that he has already fired 92 officials from the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board and the Land Transportation Office.
He also cited his decision to fire Immigration deputy commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles, his fraternity brothers at the San Beda College of Law, who were accused of extorting P50 million from gambling tycoon Jack Lam.
“There will be no corruption, not even a single peso,” Duterte said.
Despite his tough anti-corruption stance, Duterte stood by actor Cesar Montano, whom he appointed chief operations officer of the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB).
In an earlier interview, Duterte said he still trusts Montano even if TPB employees accuse the actor of involvement in at least 23 alleged anomalies including his supposed approval of a P11.2-million contract for a concert, where he performed as guest singer with his nieces on Jan. 18, 2017.
The president has challenged TPB employees to file formal charges against the actor.