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Sacking of appointees episodes continue to stalk Duterte after past SONA

As in his previous State of The Nation Addresses, President Rodrigo Duterte's third SONA in July 2018 was followed by episodes of sacking of his appointees even for  mere “whiff of corruption.” Some with the axe hanging above their heads opted to resign, and some had clung to their posts until they were fired.

Less than two weeks after his 2018 SONA, the President in early August 2018 fired the board of directors and management of the Nayong Pilipino Foundation (NPF) for approving a supposedly disadvantageous lease deal, which he later said should be reviewed.

The Palace initially did not say which lease agreement NPF entered into, but the Palace's announcement coincided with the groundbreaking for the integrated casino-resort project that sits on NPF property.

Military execs get the boot

Also in August, Duterte ordered the dismissal of military officials alleged to have taken part in fraudulent transactions at the V. Luna Medical Center, including ghost purchasing, splitting of contracts to circumvent mandatory bidding processes, and conceiving fictitious suppliers.

Among the 20 sacked officials were Armed Forces of the Philippines Health Service Command (AFPHSC) Commander Brigadier General Edwin Leo Torrelavega, V. Luna Medical Center Commander Colonel Antonio Punzalan, chiefs of Management and Fiscal Office (MFO) and the Logistics Office (OHC) of the AFPHSC.

In the same month, another military official, Philippine Military Academy comptroller Hector Marana, was fired by Duterte for the alleged misuse of P15 million worth of cadets' allowances.

Red-endorsed execs next

In October 2018, Duterte fired the first of four appointees endorsed by the Left, since his SONA. Labor Undersecretary Joel Maglunsod, a former Kilusang Mayo Uno member and then the Undersecretary for Labor Relations of the Department of Labor and Employment, was removed from his post after Duterte  criticized KMU anew for leading strikes that “will paralyze the economy.”

Joel Maglunsod
Former Labor Undersecretary Joel Maglunsod

In November 2018, the President terminated the appointments of three other Left-endorsed officials: DSWD Undersecretary for Protective Operations and Programs Group Mae Ancheta-Templa, Undersecretary for Promotive Operations and Programs Group Maria Lourdes Turalde-Jarabe and Undersecretary for Disaster Response Management Group Hope Hervilla.

Unlike in Maglunsod's case, however, Malacañang claimed their termination had nothing to do with the three's affiliation with left-leaning organizations. The Palace said they were removed to give then newly appointed DSWD Secretary Rolando Bautista a free hand to assemble his own team.

Shabu shipment mess

In late October, Duterte fired the deputy commissioners of the Bureau of Customs amid the controversy over the billions of pesos worth of shabu that allegedly slipped past Customs authorities in August.

Duterte said he was also "freezing" the department heads of the bureau as the new commissioner, former Armed Forces chief of staff Rey Guerrero, takes over.

On November 22, 2018, Duterte fired Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council Secretary-General Falconi Millar for allegedly extorting money from an unidentified company in exchange for the payment of HUDCC's financial obligation.

Millar denied the allegations. "It is an obvious demolition job. In protecting the interest of the government, I have annoyed some personalities. I filed my resignation this [Thursday] morning," he said.

Also in November, Duterte said he dismissed Office of the Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process Undersecretary Ronald Flores, who is in charge of the agency's support services and national program manager of the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA) program.

The President said he also dismissed OPAPP Assistant Secretary Yeshter Donn Baccay.

New year, new dismissals

For 2019, the first to lose his job was Bacolod City Chief of Police Francis Ebreo who was fired January 13 for his "involvement in illegal drugs" by protecting drug syndicates. Ebreo was sacked along with four other police officials.

This was followed in the same month by the firing of certain officials at the Department of Agrarian Reform after it took them two years to process a case of land conversion.

On May 15, 2019, the President fired Food and Drug Administration Director General Nela Charade Puno, accusing her of corruption.

Former NFA Nela Charade Puno
Former FDA director general Nela Charade Puno

The Department of Health would later announce the assumption of Undersecretary Eric Domingo as officer-in-charge of the agency.

Five months after Ebreo's firing, Duterte in June told three more police officials to resign to avoid humiliation. The President said these three were "corrupt" officials of the Philippine National Police headquarters at Camp Crame in Quezon City.

While most of the sacked officials denied the corruption charges, Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) board director Sandra Cam said her own agency was replete with irregularities and that she wanted out of government because of them.

Saying she can no longer stand corruption at the PCSO, Cam claimed some P10 billion had gone missing as a result of the Peryahan ng Bayan project.

She also alleged that her fellow directors were pressuring her to reverse a revocation of PCSO Board Resolution 83 giving recognition to the new officers of Speedgame Inc. that operates the Small Town Lottery in Pangasinan.

Cam said Speedgame owes PCSO P132 million, and that the PCSO is not focusing on collecting receivables from STL operators. Speedgame, she added, is headed by David Diciano, a classmate of Ted Quiano, chief of staff of PCSO chairman and general manager Anselmo Pinili.

Cam has already asked Duterte to relieve her but Malacañang said she can just resign instead of waiting for Duterte's action on her plea.

Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) board director Sandra Cam
Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) board director Sandra Cam

Last month, Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol submitted his courtesy resignation to the President. This despite President Duterte’s anti-corruption unit clearing him of allegations of "unexplained wealth" and that that he pocketed money from rice importation deals when he assumed the leadership of the National Food Authority Council.

Piñol’s wealth grew from P26.97 million in 2017 to P28.53 million in 2018, according to his latest statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).

Despite his resignation, Piñol asked to be reassigned to another post, specifically naming the Mindanao Development Authority.

On July 2, Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) president and general manager Jesus Clint Aranas, citing "personal reasons," tendered his resignation which was accepted by Duterte.

GSIS President and General Manager Jesus Clint Aranas is shown here (right) with President Duterte and Education Secretary Leonor Briones. Richard Madelo /PPD
GSIS President and General Manager Jesus Clint Aranas is shown here (right) with President Duterte and Education Secretary Leonor Briones. Richard Madelo /PPD

Aranas' resignation came on the heels of a Commission on Audit report showing the GSIS had committed "illegal expenditure" when it granted 97% of its employees P260 million in incentives, equivalent to P100,000 each, without prior recommendation of the Department of Budget and Management and approval of the Office of the President.

The President, three days later, admitted he fired Aranas

Just last week, Duterte said he was relieving 64 employees of the Bureau of Customs of their duties over alleged corruption and "to prevent further damage to government interest." 

Trust and confidence

While some got axed due to mere "whiff of corruption," there were some who remained secured in their posts as they continued to enjoy President Duterte's trust and confidence.

Such was the case of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III who was criticized for his lack of initiative to curb corruption in the Bureau of Customs and the Bureau of Internal Revenue.

Malacañang said Wednesday it sees no reason to remove Dominguez the Cabinet, even praising him for having a "superb work ethic." 

Carlos Dominguez
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez

Another example is Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said still enjoys the trust and confidence of Duterte, despite accusations of conflict of interest.

Duque has previously said that there was no conflict of interest regarding the lease because PhilHealth Regional Office 1 was already a tenant of their family-owned Lyceum-Northwestern University—under the corporate name Educational and Medical Development Corp.—when he left government service in 2015 and eventually got elected as its president.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III

Former Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña, meanwhile, was slapped by the National Bureau of Investigation with a corruption complaint over the missing containers that contained ceramic tiles from China.

Duterte ended up removing him from the BOC but transferred him to the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to be its director general.

Former Customs chief Isidro Lapeña
Former Customs commissioner Isidro Lapeña

Last January, the NBI filed fresh charges of graft and administrative offenses in connection with the alleged shabu smuggling using magnetic lifters discovered in Manila and Cavite last year. —LBG, GMA News