Duterte fires official for discussing a government project with a presidential sister

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Transportation Assistant Secretary for Railways Mark Tolentino

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 21) — President Rodrigo Duterte has fired Transportation Assistant Secretary for Railways Mark Tolentino for trying to involve a member of the chief executive's family in a government project.

In a press briefing on Monday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Tolentino reached out to a sister of the president regarding the project but declined to give more details.

"Ang kasalanan po ni Asec Tolentino ay siya po ay nakipag-usap sa isang kamag-anak ng presidente. Ang order po ng presidente sa lahat ng nasa gobyerno, huwag niyo pong kakausapin ang kahit sinong kamag-anak niya na meron pong gustong kontrata or appointment sa gobyerno," he explained.

[Translation: Asec Tolentino made a mistake of contacting a relative of the president. The president's order to everyone in government is to never talk to his relatives if they are after contracts or appointments.]

Roque added, "Nilabag niya ang order na huwag magkakaroon ng dealings with his relatives."

[Translation: He violated the order not to have dealings with the President's relatives.]

Duterte on Sunday said he would strictly implement his policy on firing officials for using him or his family for advantage.

"He violated my order na pagka ako ang minention or talking to my relatives, even on a conversation about a project only, t***, sisipain talaga kita," the president said in a speech in Cebu City on Sunday.

[Translation: He violated my order that if I am even mentioned or or if they talk to my relatives, even in a conversation about a project only, I would kick them out.]

The sacked executive said he will continue to support Duterte.

"I am serving at the pleasure of the president. Whatever his decision, I will respect it. But I will continue to support him and to continue to fight against corruption and to protect the interest of Mindanao and its people," he said in a text message.

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) welcomed the move, saying it should serve as a warning to other officials.

"The DOTr does not and will not tolerate such acts by its officials or employees. Namedropping and seeking the assistance of the President, his family, or any other influential individual, either for government projects or for personal gain, will never be tolerated," it said in a statement.

On May 18, Tolentino accused transport officials of "derailing" the Mindanao Railway project. This was dismissed by DOTr, saying the project is on track and will be completed by 2021 without corruption.

The first phase of the railway project, spanning over 100 kilometers, will connect the cities of Tagum in Davao del Norte, Davao City, and Digos in Davao del Sur. It is expected to reduce travel time from 3.5 hours to 1.3 hours. The project costs around P36 billion.

Warnings and more resignations

Malacañang also issued a stern warning against using members of the first family in their transactions.

Roque said they have discovered that the the partner of Duterte's former daughter-in-law — tagged by Roque as a "judicial fixer" — was using the presidential grandchild's name in dealings with judges and justices.

"Ginagamit po ang pangalan ng apo ng presidente para sa pagpi-fix ng mga kaso. So mga mahistrado po, mga judges, at justices, huwag niyo pong entertainin itong fixer na ito," Roque said.

No name was mentioned but among the presidential children, only former Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte has an ex-wife. He was married to Lovelie Sangkola Sumera until 2006.

The Presidential Spokesperson also said the resignation of another government official will be announced on Tuesday.

It is still unclear if Duterte was referring to these officials when he  recently said he would fire at least five more government officials.

"They are about five in the list. I'd like to add more," Duterte said on Sunday.