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Trillanes dares Duterte: File corruption charges vs Sueno

MANILA, Philippines – An opposition senator on Tuesday, April 4, dared the Duterte administration to file charges against former interior secretary Ismael Sueno and former National Irrigation Administration chief Peter Laviña, both sacked over alleged corruption.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV posed the challenge during a news briefing on Tuesday, while responding to questions about the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to fire Sueno.

"Bakit 'di kasuhan? Bakit dinismiss lang? Dapat kung meron ka talagang anything solid, 'di mo lang ifa-fire, kakasuhan mo. Papakita mo na message ito, na ganito ka ka-serious [against corruption]," said Trillanes, one of Duterte's fiercest critics.

(Why aren't they filing a case? Why were they only dismissed? If they really have anything solid, they should file a case. You would show that this is a message, that this is how serious you are [against corruption].)

The senator said Duterte would likely go soft on Sueno and Laviña. "Maraming alam 'yan, kaya very careful on how to deal with them. Tingnan mo ang sinabi lang 'loss of trust' [in Sueno]," he said.

(They know a lot of things, that's why the Duterte administration is being very careful in dealing with them. Look, they just said "loss of trust" [in Sueno].)

Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said on Tuesday that Duterte dismissed Sueno due to "loss of trust and confidence." (READ: How Duterte fired DILG chief Sueno)

"The President had earlier asked a few questions of Mr Sueno but 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.

Trillanes also reiterated his challenge to Duterte to release bank records to once and for all prove that he has no secret billions in his bank accounts and that he is serious in fighting corruption.

'Convenient excuse'

The opposition senator is also not buying Malacañang's "convenient excuse" of weeding out corruption to justify Sueno's dismissal.

Trillanes tagged the decision to fire Sueno as an alibi for Duterte to appoint his preferred chief for the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) after the one-year appointment ban on losing candidates lapses in May. 

"It's a convenient excuse dahil may mga papasok na ngayong May; na-open na nila 'yung door (It's a convenient excuse because there will be a new one coming in this May; they have already opened the door)," Trillanes said.

"Pero noong nabalitaan 'yung kay Cesar Montano, tinanggal ba? Hindi. 'Yung kay Secretary Aguirre, tinanggal ba? Hindi rin (But when they were informed about the allegations against Cesar Montano, did they remove him? No. Did they remove Secretary Aguirre? No)," he added.

Employees of the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) lodged a formal complaint with the Presidential Action Center against their chief operations officer, actor Cesar Montano, for alleged mismanagement and possible corruption. Duterte had said that he "trusts" Montano, when asked about the complaint.

Aguirre, meanwhile, faced controversy for reinstating benefits for high-level convicts who testified against Senator Leila de Lima.

"Ganoon lang, political convenience. Isi-spin nila na anti-corruption. I believe merong gustong i-appoint diyan, pagka natapos na 'yung ban (It's just like that, political convenience. They will spin it to look like it's anti-corruption. I believe they want to appoint somebody there after the ban lapses)," he added.

The senator was referring to the one-year appointment ban on losing candidates. Under the law, candidates who lost in the May 2016 elections can only be appointed to a government position a year after the polls.

Trillanes refused to name who he thinks would be Sueno's successor but there have been speculations that former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr would get the coveted post.

Duterte earlier denied this, saying Marcos is "not interested" in the post. 

"Well, to be honest 'di ko alam sino. There are names floated around, pero meron pang infighting 'yan kung sino makakakuha niyan (Well, to be honest I don't know who. There are names floated around but there is still infighting on who will get the post)," Trillanes said.

Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, Duterte's running mate, is also expected to join the Cabinet. The President earlier said he would appoint Cayetano as foreign secretary but he was not as categorical in his response to the same question in recent weeks, saying he would still have to discuss this with the senator.

Duterte's first foreign secretary, Perfecto Yasay Jr, was rejected by the Commission on Appointments over US citizenship issues. The President appointed Foreign Undersecretary Enrique Manalo to lead the department in an acting capacity.

The DILG post is seen as a good springboard for those seeking higher office. –

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email