Piñol on way out? Palace says no word from Duterte

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 25 2019 04:21 PM

President Rodrigo Duterte speaks with Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol on the sidelines of the 'Sama-sama, Tulong-tulong sa Pagbangon at Pagsulong' program at the Heroes Hall in San Fernando City, Pampanga, August 28, 2017. Richard Madelo, Malacañang Photo/File

MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte has not mentioned any supposed plan to revamp his Cabinet, particularly replace Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, Malacañang said Tuesday.

Piñol's stay in the Cabinet is reportedly under review after he hogged headlines over his response on the Recto (Reed) Bank incident where a Philippine fishing boat was allegedly rammed by a Chinese ship in the West Philippine Sea on June 9.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Tuesday Duterte has not informed him of any plans to substitute Piñol.

"I have not received any word on that... Wala naman siya binabanggit (He has not mentioned anything)," Panelo said.

Piñol could be transferred to the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), a source said.

Asked whether the President remains happy with Piñol's performance as agriculture chief, Panelo said: "I think so. Wala naman siyang sinasabi sa amin na di siya happy."

(He has not said anything about not being happy anymore.)

Piñol has yet to respond to ABS-CBN News' request for comment.

Last week, the agriculture chief met with the Occidental Mindoro fishermen who survived after being left at sea when their boat sank following an incident with a Chinese vessel. They were rescued by a Vietnamese boat.

Following the meeting, they said they were no longer sure if the Chinese vessel had indeed rammed their boat, as they initially said.

Observers said they may have been coerced to change their story, but Piñol called the allegation unfair.

Malacañang had earlier expressed doubts on the fishermen's story, while President Rodrigo Duterte, who has pursued enhanced ties with China, called it a "maritime incident."

China has, meanwhile, said the incident was unintentional.

The incident happened in the West Philippine Sea, the country's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, which China claims in near entirety.

Last year, Piñol also drew flak when the country grappled with a rice shortage.

Duterte's anti-graft commission recently cleared Piñol of corruption amid allegations that he pocketed money from rice importation deals when he assumed the leadership of the National Food Authority (NFA) Council.