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Philippine Leader Dismisses 2 Officials over Allegations of Corruption

Dennis Jay Santos
Davao City, Philippines
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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures while delivering a speech during the 19th anniversary of the Volunteers against Crime and Corruption at the Malacañang presidential palace in Manila, Aug. 16, 2017.

President Rodrigo Duterte has asked two senior members of his government to resign over publicized allegations of corruption, a week after the country’s tourism secretary quit for similar reasons, his spokesman said Tuesday.

Assistant secretaries Moslemen Macarambon, of the justice department, and Tingagun Umpa, of the public works department, were forced to quit and could face charges, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.

“The president has advised two assistant secretaries to tender their resignations or face termination for corruption,” Roque said.

He said an anti-corruption commission found that Macarambon allegedly had “regularly been intervening on behalf of suspected smugglers of gold and other precious jewelry” at the country’s main international airport.

Umpa was found to have allegedly asked contractors in the south “for certain percentages from projects awarded” to them, Roque said.

The two were appointed by Duterte, who became president in 2016 on a vow to stamp out corruption and eliminate drug trafficking by killing thousands of addicts and dealers.

While thousands have died so far in his war on drugs, including children who were mistakenly gunned down by the police he had empowered, he has failed to come down hard on erring officials.

Earlier this month, he accepted the resignation of Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo after the Commission on Audit said in a report that her office had awarded 60 million pesos (about U.S. $1.2 million) in advertising contracts to her brother’s company.

Her resignation came a month after justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, the top government defender of the president’s drug war, was also asked to resign after his office cleared two suspected big-time drug traffickers of charges.

But unlike in the cases of Macarambon and Umpa, Duterte has refrained from publicly castigating or shaming Teo and Aguirre, a sign that the president was playing favorites despite his anti-corruption pledge, watchdog groups have said.

In February, Dutere sacked Jose Gabriel La Viña as commissioner of the state pension fund on allegations of corruption, only to recently reappoint him as an undersecretary at the tourism office.

La Viña, Duterte’s social media strategist during the presidential campaign, was fired after he allegedly asked for an overblown budget for his social media efforts and asked for state accreditation for friends to handle investments of the pension fund.

Duterte has said he would not tolerate “even a whiff of corruption” among his officials.

Almost three months later, however, the president signed an appointment letter installing La Viña back into goverment. Duterte has not publicly acknowledged questions about the re-appointment of his ex-campaign director.

Earlier, Roque told reporters that Duterte was exercising “presidential prerogative” in rehiring La Viña.

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