Philippines' Duterte fires minister over corruption allegations

FILE PHOTO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures while answering questions during a news conference in Manila, Philippines March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has fired his interior minister for “loss of trust and confidence”, the most senior government executive to be removed in a campaign to root out corruption, two Cabinet officials said on Tuesday.

The firebrand Duterte came to power 10 months ago on a platform of fighting drugs, crime and corruption. He has removed dozens of bureaucrats, two senior immigration officials and a former campaign spokesman suspected of corruption.

“Duterte has dismissed Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary, Mr Ismael Sueno, citing loss of trust and confidence,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement, adding the sacking served as a warning to all other presidential appointees.

Duterte made the announcement at the end of a cabinet meeting on Monday night, he said.

“The secretary had, in fact, been instrumental in convincing the president to run for election, but this did not deter the president from pursuing his drive for a trustworthy government by addressing issues like corruption,” said the spokesman.

In a statement, Sueno said Duterte had been given “wrong information by those who were salivating” for his position as interior minister.

“It is his call if he wants me in his Cabinet or not,” Sueno said. “But, for the record, Mr President, I can say this with all honesty and sincerity, I am not corrupt.”

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre in a radio interview also confirmed the dismissal of Sueno from the Cabinet but did not give any reason for the president’s decision.

In February, Sueno helped organize a pro-Duterte rally, which more than 200,000 people attended, to counter a mass protest denouncing allegations of extra-judicial killings under Duterte’s anti-narcotics campaign.

Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Nick Macfie