Sueno: Palace allowed Austria trip to inspect fire trucks

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 6) — In a letter to Malacañang, former Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Ismael Sueno said the Palace authorized his trip to Austria last January.

The letter obtained by CNN Philippines comes after President Rodrigo Duterte dismissed Sueno on Monday over the DILG's purchase of 76 firetrucks from Austria, which were acquired through a loan from the Austrian government.

The deal was carried over from the Aquino administration and is supposedly tainted with irregularity, according to a volunteer group that helped Duterte win the presidency.

In the explainer, Sueno said Malacañang authorized him on Dec. 28. 2016 to go to Austria with his head executive assistant Josephine Leysa and Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) chief Bobby Baruelo to inspect fire trucks in connection with phase two of the BFP's capability-building program.

The current controversy involves phase one, which covers the 76 trucks delivered in 2013 that the government has yet to pay for.

Austria shouldered all expenses for the trip as stated in the supply contract. The team then submitted to Malacañang their report about the trip on March 10.

DILG legal opinion

Interior Undersecretary JV Hinlo asked the DILG Legal Department's opinion on the propriety of paying for the trucks while a case filed by former Abakada party-list Represetative Jonathan de la Cruz against the deal was pending before the Supreme Court.

The DILG Legal Department recommended that the BFP secure documents from the Commission on Audit justifying the request for payment for the trucks.

It also instructed Sueno defer his go signal to request payment pending the Supreme Court case.

In an interview with CNN Philippines' The Source, Hinlo said he forwarded the legal opinion to Sueno's office.

Read more: Interior Undersecretary: Sueno did not follow DILG legal counsel

But in a press conference Thursday, Sueno said he never received a copy of the opinion.

You're fired

Duterte said he lost his temper when Sueno told him that he was not informed of the DILG's legal opinion on the fire trucks purchase.

"Para siyang nakausap na… Parang ginagawa niya akong g--- [It's as if he was talking to, taking me for a fool]. 'So in that case, you might leave the room. You might leave the room because you're fired. I am dismissing you,'" the President said in a speech Wednesday, relaying what he said to Sueno.

Read more: Duterte details firing Sueno, denies Marcos is next DILG chief