Duterte fires campaign spokesman as NIA chief

MANILA, Philippines (5th UPDATE) – Peter Laviña was sacked as head of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), Rappler learned on Wednesday, March 1.

President Rodrigo Duterte himself mentioned his decision to fire his campaign spokesman in a meeting with labor groups in Malacañang Monday night, February 27, sources who were in that meeting told Rappler.

Two sources from labor groups said that during the meeting, Duterte said he had fired Laviña for allegedly receiving "40%."

Duterte then went on to emphasize how he does not tolerate corruption even among those close to him.

In his speech at the launch of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission on Friday, February 24, Duterte mentioned that he just "fired" an appointee who is from Davao City.

"When I said there will be no corruption, there will be no corruption. As a matter of fact, I fired last night (Thursday) one taga-Davao (from Davao) for simply making a remark. Sabi ko (I said), he's out. And I told him, even a whiff of corruption, talagang tatanggalin kita (I will really fire you). So I'm doing my part."

Rappler learned that a group of NIA directors met with Duterte in Panacan Thursday night, February 23, and told him about Laviña's supposed overtures to them. Panacan is also referred to as the Malacañang of the South.

Laviña would allegedly call them and point out projects the regional office had and tell them, "Kayo nang bahala sa akin (It's up to you to take care of me)."

This infuriated the President. "Putang ina, may tanggalin talaga ako (Son of a bitch, I'm really going to fire someone)!" he reportedly said.

That sealed the fate of Laviña. He was asked to resign, insiders said.

Laviña denial

Sought for comment, Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr told Rappler, "He was not sacked but he tendered his resignation."

Laviña confirmed this himself in a Facebook post past 10 am on Wednesday. He denied corruption allegations and said he decided to resign to spare the President from "these embarrassing stories."

"I have been vilified in the past; my name used, abused and maligned. Recently, there had been efforts to discredit me again. There are rumors circulating that I have asked money from NIA contractors. These are not true!" he said.

"To spare the President from these embarrassing stories, particularly in these times of intensified attacks on him, I have quietly left government. I have neither personal vested interest in it nor ill intent towards NIA and the whole government, which we are trying to reform," Laviña added.

Laviña maintained that he had never done anything to betray the trust of Duterte.

"Thank you for the opportunity to serve the government, especially to President Duterte, whose trust I have never betrayed. I have proven in the past that one need not be in government to do public service or work for the common good. I will likely continue to do so in media, civil society and the business sector where I have been involved before," he said.

At a Palace briefing on Wednesday, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella read Evasco's full statement: "NIA administrator Peter Laviña has tendered his resignation amid attempts to vilify, discredit, and  malign him and to spare the President from any embarrassment due to these attempts. It is with deep regret that our office receives this news and wishes him well in his next endeavors."

Ties

Laviña served as presidential campaign spokesman for Duterte. He was also Duterte's former aide before becoming a Davao City councilor. 

He is known to be allied with Duterte's running mate Alan Peter Cayetano, with whom Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol is also associated. Sources in Davao said Piñol pushed for Laviña's appointment.

Cayetano also gave it a nudge, urging the Duterte camp with, "Why don't you give him a chance?"

The President appointed Laviña NIA head 3 months ago – in November last year.

Last December, Duterte sacked two fraternity brothers from their posts at the Bureau of Immigration for alleged corruption. Duterte's style of dismissing them from service was to ask them to resign. – Rappler.com 

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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Patty Pasion

Patty leads the Rappler+ membership program. She used to be a Rappler multimedia reporter who covered politics, labor, and development issues of vulnerable sectors.

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