By Maricel Cruz
Manila Standard Today
Aquino’s ally draws flak over P1-b midnight deal
Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno came under fire on Saturday, with several lawmakers demanding his resignation and seeking a full-blown investigation on the allegedly anomalous P1-billion midnight purchase of firearms he made for the National Police.
Senator Miriam Santiago said she would ask for an investigation on the “unique and anomalous” authority given to Puno, a long-time ally of President Benigno Aquino III, as overseer of police matters.
Senior opposition member Rep. Orlando Fua of Siquijor sought a resolution in the House of Representatives directing an appropriate committee to find out if there are laws being violated by Puno when he approved the contract with Trust Trade and its partner, Glock Asia Pacific Ltd., last Aug. 31, the same day that President Aquino named Manuel Roxas II as Interior secretary and gave him a free hand to bring in his own team.
An administration ally, Rep. Angelo Palmones of Agham party-list group, sought Puno’s resignation in the name of delicadeza.
“The investigation on this purchase deal handled by Puno is a real test of President Aquino’s much ballyhooed ‘matuwid na daaan’ and anti-graft program,” Fua told the MST Sunday.
The probe, Fua said, would also test the President’s integrity and commitment to pursue reforms in PNP purchases.
“More than anything else, the investigation will also determine President Aquino’s faithfulness to his oath of office: ‘walang kurap, walang mahirap’,” he said.
Opposition stalwart Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano said that the contract involving the purchase of 60,000 pistols for the police at a cost of P997.99 million should be thoroughly reviewed and investigated not only by Congress but also by other agencies of government.
“It involves the taxpayers’ money,” said Albano, a member of the powerful House Committee on Appropriatios.
House Assistant Majority Leader and party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna of Citizens Battle against Corruption said that charges should be initiated against Puno before the Office of the Ombudsman.
“I don’t think (Congress is the right venue for Puno to answer the allegations against him. The proper forum is the Office of the Ombudsman if and in case somebody files a case against him,” Tugna said.
Palmones, for his part, urged Puno to resign for delicadeza, saying that the controversy involving Puno is a chance for the President to show the Filipino people that the ‘special class’ called ‘P’noy’s ‘KKK’ group (Kaibigan, Kaklase at Kabarilan—friends, classmates and shooting buddies) are not above the law.
Puno figured prominently in the botched and embarrassing handling of the Quirino Grandstand hostage taking incident in August 2011. He was on top of the police operations together with Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim when the lamented and botched rescue effort turned into a bloody mess.
Despite the mishandling of the Quirino Grandstand hostage tourist massacre, Puno got off with a slap on the wrist. The HongKong government up to this day had banned HK residents from visiting the Philippines.
“He (Puno) is just a trusted ‘kabarilan’ of P’noy. If he (Puno) is a true friend, he should have resigned even after the Luneta booboo,” Palmones said.
Puno is known to be a firing range gun master of the President.
Except for a penchant for practical shooting and enthusiasm for firearms, Puno—who earned a degree in Agricultural Economics at University of the Philippines, in Los Baños—was appointed by the President to handle the PNP and other police matters in the DILG.
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P-Noy admits ordering Puno
By Marvin Sy
The Philippine Star
VLADIVOSTOK, Russia — President Aquino admitted yesterday that he instructed Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Undersecretary Rico Puno to secure the condominium unit of his boss, Jesse Robredo.
“That was the extent of the order I gave him,” he said.
He said there are only two undersecretaries and the most logical government official was Puno because he was handling the Philippine National Police.
He said Justice Secretary Leila de Lima informed him that there were confidential papers in Robredo’s office.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago is calling for an inquiry into allegations of the involvement of Puno in anomalous activities, including his attempt to enter the Quezon City condominium unit of Robredo. Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago is calling for an inquiry into allegations of the involvement of Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Undersecretary Rico Puno in anomalous activities, including his attempt to enter the Quezon City condominium unit of his boss Jesse Robredo a day after the latter was declared missing in a plane crash.
“There are so many issues hovering over the head of this man. We know that he used to be or is a colleague of the President in pursuing target shooting hobbies. There is nothing wrong with that, but I question whether he is qualified to sit as an undersecretary,” Santiago said in a press briefing at the Eulogio Amang Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology in Manila yesterday.
“Why was this special arrangement taken for the case of Mr. Puno? I believe that Mr. Puno was able to occupy this unique office of the undersecretary with these unique, exceptional or anomalous powers because of severe pressure exerted on President Aquino,” Santiago said.
“This man has extraordinary powers and influence. So I question who is the backer of Mr. Rico Puno that led to his dividing the powers of a Secretary,” she said, referring to Puno’s taking over jurisdiction of the Philippine National Police (PNP), which is normally the responsibility of the DILG secretary. Robredo’s job as DILG chief was confined to local government.
Santiago said she would file a resolution tomorrow calling for an investigation and that she would personally talk to the chairman of the concerned committee to facilitate the holding of the hearings.
She said the Aquino administration’s decision to split the DILG and give Puno control over the PNP was suspicious, especially in the light of reports of his alleged involvement in criminal activities including illegal arms supply and the illegal numbers game or jueteng, among others.
Santiago said the issues raised against Puno have cast doubts on his credibility to exercise control over the PNP.
Controversies have hounded Puno since his appointment by President Aquino in July 2010.
Puno first made the headlines when he admitted to have entertained emissaries from jueteng lords a few days after his appointment.
He again found himself in the middle of a controversy after the bloody hostage-taking crisis at the Luneta grandstand on Aug. 23, 2010. Eight Hong Kong tourists were killed and several others wounded after a botched rescue operation.
The tragedy forced the administration to make public Aquino’s “special instruction” that Robredo’s power was limited to the local government while Puno was in charge of the PNP.
‘Conspiracy of silence’
Santiago also said Malacañang’s silence on the issue was puzzling, considering its much touted commitment to transparency and reforms.
“I thought this was a government of transparency, if so let the Senate investigate Mr. Puno and answer my questions about jueteng,” Santiago said.
President Aquino is in Vladivostok, Russia for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit. He is expected to return to Manila today.
“This is all puzzling to me and why will Malacañang itself clam up in the face of the clamor from the media, reflecting the clamor of the public, for some rays of sunshine. Let the rays of the sun shine into this very murky issue,” she added.
The attempt of Puno and some police officers to enter Robredo’s condominium unit without informing the latter’s wife Leni was “very, very suspicious,” Santiago said.
Puno’s group was barred from entering the unit by Robredo’s househelp, who alerted Leni of the undersecretary’s attempt to get inside, allegedly to retrieve some documents.
Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman was with Leni when the latter received the call from her househelp. Upon learning of the attempt to enter, Leni said she called Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to seek her assistance in securing the premises.
“As a courtesy he should have called up the widow and asked (for permission) to go in. That is very, very suspicious. Why was he there? What was he looking for?” Santiago said.
She said newly appointed DILG Secretary Manuel Roxas II should be given a free hand in choosing his officials.
“I know from prior experience, long experience with Sen. Roxas in the Senate, that this man is honest. Say what you will about his abilities or his competence about the presidency, but I know and I vouch for the fact that Mr. Roxas is honest. He should not be forced to inherit someone else who is now facing a lot of questions from the public,” Santiago said.
Roxas had announced that Puno would be given another position and that the President had given him a free hand to bring in his own people to the DILG.
However, Roxas has not yet assumed his post at the DILG, pending confirmation by the Commission on Appointments.
Santiago said the “sinister conspiracy of silence” over Puno’s case must end now, “both on the part of the Palace minions and Mr. Puno himself.”
“It is an indication of infighting among the Malacañang factions. I’ve been around long enough to know that in complicated issues such as this, there are conflicts over there. They are both fighting for the ear of the President. The President is never free of the bulong brigades of Malacañang,” Santiago said.
“I want to unmask this person even if I have to be hospitalized because I have been sick for a long time, as soon as the hearing is started. (This is) someone powerful and influential,” she added.
Based on the security logbook of 20 Lansbergh Place, Puno was with Supt. Oliver Tanseco Jr., Sr. Supt. Joel Pagdilao and a certain Apollo Reuben Toganon when he tried to enter Robredo’s condo unit.
Former Isabela governor Grace Padaca also called on the government to investigate Puno’s action, saying “the matter is crying for an explanation, at the very least, and an investigation.”
“If Usec. Puno was open to interviews and answering questions, then it would have been cleared,” Padaca told ANC’s “Dateline Philippines” yesterday.
“To tell you the truth, I learned that somebody wanted to gain entry to his office after the plane crash,” an ABS-CBN news report quoted Padaca as saying. She said her sources did not say if Puno was part of the group.
Robredo was believed to be investigating jueteng and an anomalous arms deal before his death. Confidential documents on the investigation were reportedly kept inside Robredo’s condo.
Padaca also blasted Tanseco’s claim that they were acting on President Aquino’s orders when they tried to gain access to Robredo’s condo unit and offices, purportedly to “secure” them.
She said people she knew who had prior knowledge of Puno’s move appeared nervous about carrying out the plan.
“If there’s indeed an order from the President, then they should have shown confidence that everything was okay. But why the concern?” she said.
She said she did not tell her colleagues in the Kaya Natin! Movement about the revelation because everyone then was preoccupied with searching for Robredo. Robredo’s body was eventually found on Aug. 21, or three days after the crash.
“I don’t think it will be a question if we want a probe on that, for all of the things that Sec. Jesse stood for,” she said when asked if the new DILG leadership should investigate Puno’s alleged involvement in an anomalous arms contract.
A DILG investigation report on the weapons deal acquired by ABS-CBN News shows that it was received by Robredo on Aug. 8, less than two weeks before the Masbate plane crash. The report allegedly linked Puno to the anomalous arms contract. – With Aurea Calica
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Aquino urged to let go Puno amid controversy
Source: Sun Star
MANILA – A lawmaker advised President Benigno Aquino III to allow Undersecretary Rico Puno to take leave of absence while investigation on former Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo’s death is ongoing.
Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat Jr., an administration ally, said the more prudent thing to do is to remove Puno from the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) or allow him to take leave of absence.
It was earlier reported that Local Government Undersecretary Puno and several police officials have tried to gain entry into Robredo’s condominium unit in Quezon City on August 19, a day after a tragic plane crash off Masbate killed Robredo. The government was still conducting a search and rescue operation at that time.
Special committee formed to probe Robredo plane crash
Puno is reportedly a subject of an investigation by the late Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo.
Before his death, Robredo allegedly received a report implicating Puno in a supposed anomalous deal on the purchase of assault rifles for the Philippine National Police (PNP), an agency under the DILG.
“I think the investigation on alleged irregularities implicating Usec Puno must continue. That’s the tuwid [right] thing to do. The investigation, if not pursued, would invite suspicion of a conspiracy theory on his [Robredo] death,” said Baguilat, a deputy spokesperson of Aquino’s Liberal Party.
Baguilat, a close friend of Robredo, is also one of the first members of the Kaya Natin movement for good governance, along with the late DILG Secretary.
Agham party-list Representative Angelo Palmones, meanwhile, called for Puno’s resignation.
“Usec Puno may be PNoy’s [Aquino] best shooting buddy, but he’s not a true friend. If Puno is indeed concerned and supportive to PNoy’s governance, he must have delicadeza to resign now,” he said in a text message.
The DILG official once offered his voluntary resignation two years ago when he was linked to illegal gambling and in the August 23 botched hostage crisis in Manila, which killed several Chinese tourists.
In a Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing two weeks later, Puno was quoted as saying: “I was about to resign but the President told me to continue on.”
Puno’s fate hangs as Transportation and Communications Secretary Manuel Roxas II is set to take over DILG.
After his appointment was announced by Malacañang, Roxas himself announced that Puno is out of DILG. However, Executive Secretary Pacquito Ochoa Jr. said the undersecretary remains with the agency.
In a recent ambush interview, Puno said he is willing to work with Roxas.
Senators Aquilino Pimentel III and Francis Pangilinan, for their part, said that Puno should be given a fair chance of explaining himself in case the reported investigation involves his name.
“If it’s true that there’s already an investigation ongoing, better that we let the process finish first before calling for any resignations,” Pimentel said.
“I am sure the President is on top of this latest controversy and will do what needs to be done to address it,” Pangilinan added.
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, meanwhile, challenged Puno to speak up on the issues hounding him.
“Be transparent. If you are innocent, answer the accusations against you. Bakit siya nananahimik? This is all puzzling to me,” Santiago said on Saturday.
Santiago said she will seek an investigation on the “unique and exceptional” powers given to Puno as DILG Undersecretary.
She added the DILG Secretary is usually given the authority over the PNP but in the present administration, the President chose Puno to take control over the police force.
“This case of Undersecretary Puno is completely unique, if not anomalous. I believe that Mr. Rico Puno was able to occupy this unique office of the Undersecretary with his unique or exceptional or anomalous powers because of severe pressure on Mr. Aquino,” Santiago said.
Santiago added that the inquiry will also cover the supposed break-in of Puno into Robredo’s condominium unit.
“That is so suspicious. What on earth was so compelling? Namatayan na ang pamilya [The family has lost one member]. His first instinct should be to sympathize or condole with the family,” she said. (Kathrina Alvarez/Sunnex)