By JoJo Robles
Manila Standard Today
Dear Liberal Party Senate candidates: Is it too much to ask you not to descend, locust-like, on Naga City and make political hay out of the funeral of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo?
Never mind if your party chieftain asks you to come and wave to the Bicolano crowd as you ride on top of Robredo’s hearse, as Teddyboy Locsin fears. Please resist the temptation of once again shamelessly using a national tragedy to further your political plans and confirm to everyone that you cannot see a significant number of people assembled without thinking about the number of votes you get from them.
Let the family and friends of Robredo and his grateful former constituents in Naga mourn in dignity befitting of the leader they lost. Find some other tragedy you can mine without insulting the proud Bicolanos and the memory of their beloved former mayor.
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It was not much of a secret, that President Noynoy Aquino really didn’t feel too comfortable with his interior and local government secretary, Jesse Robredo. Despite the current and very public display of mourning put on by Aquino, for instance, it was only in the latter of last year that the President made Robredo his permanent nominee for the post.
Prior to that, Robredo was merely the acting head of the DILG, with absolutely no control over the 150,000-member Philippine National Police, by far the department’s biggest agency. In fact, the Incident Investigation Review Committee which probed the bloody Aug. 23, 2010 hostage-taking that resulted in the death of eight Hong Kong tourists at Rizal Park discovered that Robredo’s undersecretary, Rico E. Puno, had “verbal instructions from the President to oversee the PNP” in addition to Puno’s duties to supervise Patrol 117, Bureau of Fire Protection, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, Public Safety College and the Philippine Center for Transnational Crime.
Puno, of course, had famously said once that he was the only one who could “tame” Aquino. This shooting buddy of the President, known as one of the most powerful of Aquino’s so-called “KKK” clique, was also intriguingly the “text mate” of Robredo’s aide on the day that the Cessna Seneca that both the secretary and his lone companion were riding in plunged into the sea off the coast of Masbate.
Aquino’s official line regarding the strange dismemberment of DILG was that he himself had direct control over the national police. Puno was only his representative, under this unusual arrangement.
In public, Aquino had also said that he had “differences” during the 2010 election campaign with Robredo, the Liberal Party member who was then in charge of out-of-town sorties. Aquino criticized Robredo for making him do “repetitive stuff” that often involved his going to the Bicol region, something that Aquino apparently didn’t relish.
As for the ordeal Aquino put Robredo through with his temporary appointment, the President said he didn’t want to nominate someone with whom he might have “difficulties in our working style and our core philosophy.” Evidently, given the stellar reputation and track record of Robredo and the secretary’s lack of a long personal relationship with Aquino, the President didn’t really feel that Robredo was someone he could work with.
To his everlasting credit, Robredo never announced his displeasure over the fact that he was never fully trusted by Aquino. He never bemoaned the fact that he had been, in effect, given less than half a department to run, with Puno being the independent sovereign of the PNP and its allied public safety agencies and reporting directly to Aquino.
Robredo knew his expertise was local governments and if his boss didn’t want him to have anything to do with the police, he could live with that.
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Aquino’s real bet for the DILG post was Vice President Jejomar Binay. But the LP-Balay faction, headed by Aquino’s defeated running mate Mar Roxas, threatened a revolt if Binay was allowed to use the police and the local governments as his stepping stone to the presidency in 2016.
And so Robredo, the Balay bet, got the job and Binay was relegated to “housing czar,” on the condition that Puno was put in charge of the police. And now that Robredo is gone, the Roxas-led faction in Malacañang is reportedly making sure that the key department remains in their pocket.
Already, the jockeying for Robredo’s old post has begun, with a Roxas-friendly media outlet reporting alarmingly that Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa (a key “Samar” operative) will be designated officer-in-charge of DILG.
The coming days will most likely see a flareup of the old Samar-Balay factional war, as both palace camps jostle for the old post held by Robredo, with or without Puno. It’s too early to say who has the upper hand, especially because Aquino himself is still deep in mourning for the Cabinet member he never really liked.
As well he probably should. After all, many friends of Robredo’s still believe that if Aquino himself had gone to Cebu to give a speech that the President should have delivered, the Bicol region’s beloved son would still be alive today.