Philippines' Duterte fires minister after 'corruption' row

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday he had fired his interior minister for corruption as signs of infighting rocked his government.

"It's corruption," Duterte said about the sacking of Ismael Sueno, who supervised the president's war on drugs that has left thousands dead.

Sueno, who was fired at a cabinet meeting late Monday, was blamed for what Duterte described as the anomalous purchase by the interior ministry of fire trucks from a foreign country.

"I do not have to belabour the point. Just remember my promises to the people: no corruption, drugs, criminality," Duterte said.

"I respect the president's decision but I am not corrupt," Sueno, 69, said in a statement.

Sueno said he was not involved in the firetruck deal as it was approved by Duterte's predecessor. He also said his conscience was clear and he was willing to face any investigation.

Asked if Sueno might face charges, Duterte's spokesman Ernesto Abella told reporters: "Let us wait for the president to take his subsequent actions."

"The summary dismissal served as a warning that Mr Duterte would not countenance any questionable or legally untenable decisions by any member of the cabinet," Abella added.

Last month Perfecto Yasay was forced to quit as foreign minister after Congress ruled that he lied to them over his US citizenship.

Abella said the loss of another cabinet member was not a sign of trouble but proof that Duterte was serious about restoring trust in government.

Duterte said he would scout for a replacement for Sueno.

In Congress, two other close Duterte allies, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Congressman Antonio Floirendo, have been publicly feuding for weeks, with Duterte trying to stay out of the quarrel.

Alvarez has accused Floirendo, a key contributor in the Duterte election campaign, of corruption, but Floirendo denies the charge.

Duterte won election by a landslide last May largely on his promise to launch a war on illegal drugs.

Although the campaign has proved popular at home, the president has faced international criticism for thousands of alleged extrajudicial killings which human rights advocates say were carried out as part of the anti-drug initiative.

The government denies the allegations.

Police have shot dead 2,087 drug suspects, while unknown killers have murdered 1,398 others in cases described by investigators as "drugs-related", according to the latest figures from the national police spokesman.

Earlier official figures had put the death toll much higher, with police reporting killing 2,564 people in drug raids and 4,200 others killed in unexplained circumstances.