Interior Undersecretary: Sueno did not follow DILG legal counsel

Highlights

  • Hinlo: DILG legal counsel told Sueno to defer fire truck transaction
  • Hinlo: DILG legal counsel advised BFP to send justification to COA
  • Sueno says he was required to abide by the contract, which was perfected during Aquino admin
  • Political analyst said that accusations against Sueno must go 'beyond firing' him
  • Hinlo said security was withdrawn from him and his family

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 5) — Sacked Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno brushed off legal advice not to push through with the allegedly anomalous fire truck transaction, one of his undersecretaries said on Wednesday.

Jesus "JV" Hinlo told CNN Philippines' The Source that the Department of Interior and Local Government's Legal and Legislative Liaison Service advised against the transaction.

This was because the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) was facing a pending case filed by former Abakada party-list Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz about the supposedly overpriced trucks at the Supreme Court.

"My question is, what if the BFP loses? What if the Supreme Court declares the contract unconstitutional or illegal? Who will pay for that-the taxpayer? Sec. Sueno?" said Hinlo.

"When a legal opinion is made by your own department, he could have [sought] further opinion from the Department of Justice under the Duterte administration," he added.

Sueno was accused of corruption activities for approving the release of payment for 76 fire trucks at P6.78 million per truck. The deal to purchase the trucks from Austria was sealed during the Aquino administration.

President Rodrigo Duterte fired Sueno from his post after their Cabinet meeting, citing the "loss of trust and confidence."

Related: Duterte dismisses DILG Secretary due to 'loss of trust and confidence'

CNN Philippines is trying to reach Sueno to comment on Hinlo's statement.

Sueno maintained his innocence, saying the President was fed wrong information by those who were "salivating for his post from the start."

Related: Sacked Sueno respects Duterte's decision, but insists he's not corrupt

Sueno said in a statement the trucks were actually the cheaper alternative since these are under "a soft loan agreement for 23 years with only minimal interest rates."

He added the contract was sealed during the past administration.

"My role was to abide by the provision of the contract which says that I should ensure that the fire trucks to be delivered are in good condition, so my team and I had to go to Austria to inspect them," said Sueno.

The statement also said that while the case was pending, "there was no temporary restraining order, any injunctive relief or even a status quo ante order issued by the court suspending or holding the same in abeyance."

Hinlo's account

Hinlo recalled that in September, Fire Bureau Chief Bobby Baruelo and Interior Assistant Secretary Ester Aldana wrote separately to the Department of Budget and Management "requesting for the release of the Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) and the non-cash availment advice amounting to 1, 530, 876,000 pesos for the [BFP] Phase 1."

Hinlo said that he wrote to the DILG Legal and Legislative Liaison Service through then-acting director Edward Justine Orden.

He noted there was a pending case about the transaction, entitled "Hon. Jonathan A. Dela Cruz vs. Hon. Paquito N. Ochoa et al" under G.R. No. 224997.

"I wrote him a letter inquiring and requesting a legal opinion from his office, attaching therewith the said memorandum request and informing him that there is a pending case before the Supreme Court," said Hinlo.

He said a legal opinion was given to him in late October, signed by Gina Wenceslao and approved by Orden.

Hinlo said that one of the recommendations were to seek clearance from the Commission on Audit (COA) for the purchase.

"It is proposed that BFP (Bureau of Fire Protection) secure from COA pertinent documents to strengthen BFP's justification and request for SARO and NCA (notice of cash allocation) as well as its defense in the present case," said Hinlo.

The second recommendation was for Sueno "to defer giving his imprimatur on BFP's request for SARO, pending resolution of the existing case."

He recalled that he quoted the letter to Sueno and advised him to "confer with our DILG legal" through a memorandum, but the transaction was still approved.

On letter about Sueno: 'Not me'

The sacking of Sueno came after a letter from the Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte-National Executive Coordinating Council (MRRD-NECC), accusing Sueno of abuse of authority, was sent to Malacañang.

Sueno believed the letter came from his undersecretaries, who worked with him at the MRRD-NECC. He added they were rooting for Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) Secretary Gene Mamondiong to get his position.

When asked who was responsible for the letter, Hinlo replied, "You have to ask from other sources, but it is not me. They have to answer it for themselves."

However, he admitted that his office had a hand in the statement about the fire trucks.

"It came from my office because I'm the undersecretary for public safety," said Hinlo. "It was brought to the attention of the President, because that is our role-to inform the President of things, if we believe we cannot anymore resolve it within the department."

Hinlo did not comment on whether or not he was pushing for Mamondiong to get the position. He only said that DILG needed a "reformist."

He also did not accuse Sueno of abuse of power and corruption outright. Instead, he said he "[agreed] with the legal opinion of the DILG legal" and that there should have been "due diligence."

When asked what Sueno could possibly gain from the transaction, Hinlo replied, "The only person who can answer that is Sec. Sueno."

Hinlo added that Sueno's statement of respecting the President's decision was enough.

"Let it stop from there. The President has already spoken based on whatever evidence," said Hinlo. "It is better to deal with this within the Office of the President."