By Genalyn Kabiling and Argyll Geducos
President Duterte has dismissed a transportation official for reaching out to one of his siblings over a government transaction, Malacañang said Monday.
A day after the President warned about imminent dismissal of five government officials for alleged corruption, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque announced the termination of Assistant Secretary Mark Tolentino of the Department of Transportation.
“The President has terminated the services of Assistant Secretary Mark Tolentino for having dealings with a presidential relative – a sister,” Roque said in a Palace press briefing.
“Ginamit ni Asec Tolentino ang First Family (Asec Tolentino used the First Family) in justifying Mindanao rail (project) but the immediate reason for his termination is he had dealings with the presidential sister],” he added.
Roque said Tolentino’s removal should serve as a warning to other government officials against seeking favors or influence from the President’s relatives to facilitate government projects, appointments and other transactions.
He said talking to the President’s relatives was enough basis for termination of services.
“Ang kasalanan ni Asec Tolentino siya ang nakipag-usap sa isang kamag-anak ng Presidente (Asec Tolentino’s violation was he talked to the President’s relative),” Roque said.
Policy vs using relatives
He maintained that the President is serious in his policy against using his relatives to influence government transactions.
“Do not even talk to them about any matter concerning government. You will get sacked if you do,” he said.
“And the reminder of the President is no one in government should entertain any relative or the President in connection with any matter that has to do with government,” he added.
Derailing railway project
Tolentino had earlier accused some transport officials for supposedly derailing the Mindanao railway project to consider possible foreign funding for the project.
He reportedly claimed he was only accountable to the President and got the blessing of members of the First Family.
Some transport executives have denied Tolentino’s allegations and criticized his arrogance for name dropping the President and his family.
Judiciary warned of fixer
In the same press briefing, Roque also warned the public, judges, and justices against dealing with the current partner of President Duterte’s ex-daughter-in-law after it was learned that the President’s family is being used to “fix” cases.
Roque specified that the said judiciary fixer is using the name of Duterte’s granddaughter to make dealings.
“We are also warning the public, including judges and justices: Meron pong umiikot, ito naman po ay asawa ng isang ex-wife ng anak ng ating Presidente, Ginagamit po ang pangalan ng apo ng Presidente para sa pagpi-fix ng mga kaso (The current husband of President Duterte’s former daughter-in-law is using the name of the President’s granddaughter to fix cases),” he said.
“Mukhang ganyan ang kanyang modus operandi – nakikipag-usap sa mga mahistrado, ginagamit ang pangalan ng pamilya ng ating Presidente (It seems that his modus operandi is to talk to justices using the name of the President’s family),” he added.
Roque said it is unfortunate that the name of Duterte’s granddaughter is being used and that the President will not tolerate such act.
Our appeal to the justices and judges, please tell Malacañang. Don’t entertain him because he is not authorized, he said.
The Palace official, however, said he is not aware if the fixer was already able to influence a case.
Roque said that if the unnamed man might be charged if he does not stop what he is doing. He also said that fixer should not test the President’s patience.
“Maybe the message has reached him already. The President knows what you are doing and will not tolerate it. Do not test the President’s patience),” Roque said in Tagalog.
Another gov’t official to resign
Meanwhile, Roque said another government official is expected to tender his resignation letter on Tuesday.
“There will be a resignation of one of those whom the President would have terminated. We will release his resignation letter tomorrow,” he said.
Meantime, Roque has appealed to other concerned government officials involved in corruption to resign now rather than wait to get fired by the President.
He reaffirmed that the President is determined to weed out corrupt government officials in government.
Over the weekend, President Duterte said he was planning to fire five officials for alleged corruption and abuse of power. Duterte said he intends to add more to the list of officers to be sacked.
He mentioned that the government corporate counsel, an official who issued excessive gambling permits, and another who issued 75-year lease contracts to foreigners would likely get the boot.
DOTr supports President’s move
The Department of Transportation (DOTr), in a statement issued Monday, “welcomed and strongly supported” the decision of President Duterte to terminate the services of Tolentino as assistant secretary for railways.
It was learned that the Asec called for an unauthorized press conference about the railway project last week for which the DOTr charged him with insubordination, misrepresentation, incomprehension as well as defiance of protocol, and obstruction of high-level principals’ discussions.
The Mindanao Railway was first funded in 1957 under Republic Act No. 2012, and was studied in 1995, 2001, 2009, and again in 2014.
It was only under President Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” program that the Mindanao Railway was finally approved by the NEDA Board as a DOTr project in June 2017.
Based on that approval, Phase 1 (Tagum-Davao-Digos) will be completed in 2021, and DOTr is on track with that completion date.
The DOTr, even before Asec.Tolentino’s appointment in December 2017, already achieved what has not been done in the last six decades –to go beyond repeated studies, to get investment approval and advance the design process for Phase 1 of the Mindanao Railway.
The Mindanao Railway is on track and on schedule, the DOTR underscored in its statement.
“Phase 1 (Tagum-Davao-Digos) will be completed in 2021, without delays and without corruption,” the statement reiterated.
But Tolentino defied instructions from his superiors, making representations and uninformed judgment on issues that are the subject of ongoing high-level inter-agency and government-to-government discussions, the statement said.
He “obstructed and possibly compromised efforts of the government to develop a funding and implementation strategy that best serves the interest of the Mindanao Railway Project and its stakeholders,” it said.
Earlier, DOTr Director for Communications Goddes Hope Libiran clarified that the press conference conducted by Tolentino on Friday was not only unauthorized pursuant to the DOTr media protocol, but was held in defiance of clear, repeated, and explained instructions coming from DOTr Secretary ArthurTugade and Usec. for Railways TJ Batan.
Batan gave an instruction to Asec. Tolentino to defer, not to stop, the presscon, so as not to pre-empt decisions that are yet to be discussed in a high level meeting between the Secretary of Finance, Secretary of Transportation, and the Chinese embassy.(With a report from Emmie V. Abadilla)