By Jayziel Khim E. Budino and Jessica Ivy A. Zapata

Days after his 2016 election to the presidency, Rodrigo Duterte said he would not tolerate “even a whiff” of corruption from any government employee under his administration.

“Huwag na huwag akong makarinig na corruption, even a whiff or whisper. I will fire you or place you somewhere,” Duterte said during Sen. Manny Pacquiao’s oath-taking in Sarangani.

Next to his anti-narcotics campaign, eradicating corruption was one of Duterte’s major campaign promises. Duterte criticized the Aquino administration for failing to hold corrupt officials accountable in the 2016 presidential campaign.

A year into his presidency, Duterte went on a firing spree and boasted that he had kept his promise.

But he also has a record of shuffling officials linked to alleged anomalies to other government agencies.

In 2017, Bureau of Customs (BOC) officials Nicanor Faeldon, Gerardo Gambala, and Milo Mestrecampo were linked to a P6.4-billion shabu smuggling case.

Faeldon resigned in August 2017 but was later transferred to the Office of Civil Defense. In October 2018, he replaced Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, who became a senator, as chief of the Bureau of Corrections.

Gambala was appointed director of the Office of Transportation Security while Maestrecampo was reassigned to the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines.

Legal opinion costs job

On April 5, 2018, Duterte accepted the resignation of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II after he dismissed charges against high-profile drug personalities Peter Lim, Rolando “Kerwin” Espinosa Jr., and Peter Co.

More than a month later, on May 15, 2018, Justice Asst. Secretary Moslemen Macarambon Sr. left his post after allegations of corruption. Macarambon allegedly intervened on behalf of suspected smugglers of gold and precious jewelry at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

On May 21, 2018, Asst. Secretary Mark Tolentino of the Department of Transportation was fired. The Palace said he was involved in deals with one of the president’s sisters. “The order of the President to all government officials is not to entertain any of his relatives regarding any contract with [the] government,” Palace spokesman Harry Roque said.

Government Corporate Counsel Rudolf Philip Jurado was fired on May 28, 2018 after he issued a legal opinion that did not sit well with the president. Jurado’s opinion allowed the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone to operate outside its zone but within Philippine Economic Zone Authority’s jurisdiction.

Two days later, on May 30, 2018, Customs Deputy Commissioner Noel Patrick Sales Prudente was fired by the president over excessive travels.

On Aug. 7, 2018: Duterte fired the entire board of Nayong Pilipino, a government-owned and controlled corporation under the Department of Tourism, over a long-term casino lease agreement.

Next on the chopping block was Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council Secretary General Falconi Millar, who was fired on Nov. 22, 2018 over unspecified corruption allegations. Millar was Task Force Bangon Marawi secretary general. Millar called the allegations against him a “demolition job.”

Of the 20 officials who were sacked by the president in 2018 due to allegations of corruption and misconduct, four have been reappointed and one was retained in the government. 

Social Security System chief Jose Gabriel “Pompee” La Viña, who was supposedly fired for proposing costly projects like a P26-million social media project and a television show to be hosted by himself, was later named tourism undersecretary. He was later moved to the Department of Agriculture.

Presidential Commision for the Urban Poor (PCUP) Commissioner Melissa Aradanas, who is the cousin of Duterte’s partner, Honeylet Avanceña, was fired for unnecessary overseas trips. She was later named deputy secretary general of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council.

PCUP Commissioners Joan Lagunda and Manuel Serra Jr. were both fired for “unnecessary junkets.” Lagunda was later appointed as assistant secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, while Serra was appointed to the Philippine Coconut Authority.

Convicts released

In 2019, some 50 Customs officials and employees were removed from their posts over alleged corruption.

The president also demanded the courtesy resignation of Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) acting president Roy Ferrer and PhilHealth board members. 

Sacked Labor Undersecretary Joel Maglunsod was reassigned to the National Maritime Polytechnic, an agency under the Department of Labor and Employment. 

On Sept. 4, 2019, the president said that Bureau of Corrections chief Nicanor Faeldon should resign for disobeying his order by approving the release of several heinous crime convicts. “I am a soldier, I do as I am told,” Faeldon said.

On Sept. 10, 2019, the president fired Jose Antonio Goitia, executive director of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission.

On Oct. 15, 2019, the chief of the Philippine National Oil Co., Pedro Aquino, resigned upon Duterte’s orders.

Pastillas scheme

Hundreds of immigration personnel were reassigned to different terminals and shifts at NAIA on Feb. 27, 2020, following the discovery of the so-called “pastillas” bribery scheme.

The president however expressed support for Bureau of Immigration chief Jaime Morente, saying Morente’s authority was limited. 

On June 17, the Office of the Ombudsman announced it had decided to investigate the Department of Health (DOH), including Secretary Francisco Duque III, over their handling of the Covid-19 pandemic response. 

Sen. Panfilo Lacson claimed that the price of personal protective equipment purchased by the DOH was twice the price of the same gear purchased by private groups. 

Following fresh allegations of corruption and overpricing of contracts at PhilHealth, Palace spokesman Harry Roque said the president needed more evidence before taking action.

Lacson reminded the president on Aug. 6 of his warning to fire corrupt officials. 

“Sabi niya noong araw, just a whiff of corruption ‘pag nakakaamoy ka lang, you’re fired. This is not just a whiff of corruption,” Lacson said.