WHO is correct?
President Rodrigo Duterte, who insisted that there was something rotten with the P2.8-billion contract to buy 76 fire trucks from Rosenbauer of Austria? Or his subordinates who say the deal was “a perfected contract” that will be carried out?
The second possibility is problematic because this was the same argument put forward by Interior and Local Government Secretary Ismael Sueno, just before the President fired him on April 3 for allowing the fire truck deal to push through.
At the time, the President fumed against Sueno, accusing him of “lying through his teeth” when he denied there was anything onerous about paying for Rosenbauer fire trucks under a contract signed by the previous administration.
“He was not following the legal opinion of his own office. That’s why... I lost my [temper]. If you answer me with that kind of statement, but you’ve never read legal opinions of the legal officer of your own office, it’s either you’re taking me for a stupid idiot, or you are lying through your teeth,” the President said.
Mr. Duterte said he began to investigate the implementation of the contract for Rosenbauer fire trucks for P20 million each, after receiving a letter from Sueno’s undersecretaries, and noted that similar trucks could be bought for half the price.
Sueno also supposedly traveled to Austria with his family to personally ensure the delivery of 76 fire trucks, even though the government contract is the subject of a case pending before the Supreme Court.
“The summary dismissal [of Sueno] served as a warning that Mr. Duterte would not countenance any questionable or legally untenable decisions by any member of the Cabinet,” Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella warned at the time.
How odd, then, to hear the same official say three weeks later that the “perfected contract” would push through after all—and to hear Sueno’s temporary replacement, officer-in-charge Catalino Cuy, say that the entire deal had “gone through the process, apparently.”
“The documents show that everything seems to be regular in the Rosenbauer fire trucks contract,” Cuy continued. “This is a government-to-government contract, with multiple agencies involved. With Malacañang’s nod to proceed, I hope we can lay the controversies to rest and give our people what they need: a much-improved fire service with increased capability and higher efficiency.”
So, was President Duterte wrong or misinformed when he fired Sueno for saying exactly what Abella and Cuy are saying now? Logically, both sides cannot be right. The administration owes us an explanation.