MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte sacked his interior secretary and close political ally over reports of alleged corruption, in what his officials said Tuesday was a warning that he will not tolerate wrongdoing even in his Cabinet.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Duterte announced the dismissal of Interior and Local Government Secretary Ismail Sueno at the end of a Cabinet meeting late Monday after asking him some questions, citing 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," Abella said in a statement.
Sueno was in charge of local governments and the national police, making him among the most powerful Cabinet members. He denied the corruption allegations, saying Duterte "must have been fed with the wrong information."
"If only the president asked Department of the Interior and Local Government personnel from the central down to the regional and field offices, he would have known who amongst us are more credible and trustworthy," Sueno said in a statement, adding he was ready to face an investigation.
Regarding an allegation that he was linked to irregularities in the import of firetrucks, Sueno said the contract was finalized and signed by previous officials, not by him.
Sueno was among political allies who convinced Duterte, a longtime mayor of southern Davao city, to run for the presidency last year, "but this did not deter the president from pursuing his drive for a trustworthy government by addressing issues like corruption," Abella said.
Duterte, 72, won last year's election with a wide margin on a promise to fight crime, particularly illegal drugs, corruption and terrorism. Since taking office in June, Duterte's anti-drug crackdown has left thousands of suspects dead, alarming Western governments led by the United States and the European Union and U.N. rights officials.
Sueno had a reported rift with his three undersecretaries, who accused him of corruption, shielding a politician linked to illegal drugs, and other wrongdoing.
Abella said the president checked those accusations before he decided to dismiss Sueno.
He is the highest official to be removed from office over alleged wrongdoing, though Duterte has fired a number of lower-ranking officials in other government agencies.
It's not clear if Sueno will be formally investigated or prosecuted.