By Aurea Calica
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – Three days before a Senate probe into his alleged vast powers and questionable dealings in the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Undersecretary Rico Puno announced yesterday his resignation.
He, however, declared, “I have carried out my assigned duties to the best of my ability.”
In a two-page statement released by Malacañang, Puno said he opted to keep silent all this time due to the confidential nature of his job.
“Moving forward, I have resigned as (DILG) undersecretary to support the President’s decision to give a free hand to the incoming secretary in forming a new team,” Puno said, referring to Manuel Roxas II.
President Aquino accepted the resignation, which was submitted two days after the Chief Executive announced that Puno would be replaced.
Puno said he wanted to “thank President Aquino for his trust and confidence in giving me the opportunity to serve the country and the people.”
Puno’s resignation came in the wake of media reports of his attempt to enter the condominium unit of his boss Jesse Robredo a day after the latter went missing in a plane crash last Aug. 18. Malacañang would later say Puno had been authorized to secure Robredo’s offices but not the late secretary’s condominium unit.
“When the President asked me to serve in the DILG, he emphasized that we needed to strengthen the institution so that our uniformed personnel will become truly servants and protectors of our people. For the past two years, I have carried out specific assignments in accordance with the President’s mandate,” Puno said.
“We have introduced reforms to ensure full transparency of procurement and bidding processes. We have streamlined these processes to achieve the President’s objective of getting ‘the biggest bang for the buck’ in providing basic equipment to enable our uniformed personnel to perform their tasks effectively,” he said.
As undersecretary for peace and order in the DILG, Puno said he could not defend himself before the media and the public because he was entrusted with duties and responsibilities that involved strict confidence, security and protocol.
“Violating the confidential nature of my duties may expose people to danger or jeopardize critical operations. Hence, I am duty-bound to act with restraint and circumspection, even when subjected to personal attacks in the mass media,” he said. “This is why I have opted not to react to the speculative accusations that have been hurled against me by some media organizations.”
Take the bullet for P-Noy
In an exclusive interview later yesterday with GMA-7’s Jessica Soho, Puno said he did not know if he was being investigated by Robredo. He also rejected insinuations that he was protecting jueteng operators.
“I have nothing to do with it, I don’t ask for anything or give protection to anyone,” he said in Filipino when asked to comment on allegations of his links to jueteng lords.
“Maybe there’s conspiracy or what,” he said on his being linked to many controversies. “We’re not plotting anything sinister.”
He was with Robredo on stage in Cebu on Aug. 18 when he told the then DILG chief about the purchase of the firearms for the police.
“Okay na PNP (The PNP is now okay),” he recalled having told Robredo.
Asked about whether he was allied to the Balay or the Samar group among the President’s supporters, Puno said “sa Times po ako, taga Tarlac din (I’m with Times and Tarlac as well),” apparently referring to Times Street where President Aquino’s family lives as well as to Tarlac, Aquino’s home province.
The Balay group of newly appointed Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II is believed to be against Puno, who is reportedly allied with the Samar group of Vice President Jejomar Binay and Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr.
Asked if he is ready to take a bullet for the President, Puno said “anytime, anytime.”
He also declined to say if he is ready to face the Senate on Friday, saying he hasn’t received any invitation or summons yet.
With his resignation, it would now be up to Puno to decide whether to face the Senate “evaluation” set by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
The Palace spokesman said the Senate hearing is likely to focus more on the DILG setup where an undersecretary is tasked to oversee police matters.
“What we have always maintained is that we (are fair). So this is a development that certainly would put to rest all these accusations that Undersecretary Puno is close to the President and he’s being coddled and that’s not true,” he said.
He said Puno submitted his resignation letter through Ochoa. The President and Puno talked about the latter’s resignation on Monday. Asked if there is a new job being readied for Puno, Lacierda said, “There’s no word. There’s no word to that effect.”
Lacierda said Aquino’s acceptance of Puno’s resignation does not mean the latter has lost the trust of the President.
“It doesn’t follow,” he said. “As far as we know, Undersecretary Puno is willing to defend himself. What is clear from the statements was that the President instructed Undersecretary Puno to secure the office of Secretary Jesse Robredo,” he said. “Undersecretary Puno was informed that there were some confidential documents in the condominium of Secretary Jesse Robredo. He took it upon himself, on his initiative, to also ensure that the documents in the condominium be also secured. But, again, when you say secured, nothing is to be brought out, nothing is to be touched. So, as far as we know, the instructions of the President were carried out by Undersecretary Puno,” Lacierda said.
“Resignation is always a selfless act… It certainly is commendable that the official concerned resigns on his own accord,” he added.
Asked if this should end speculations about and criticisms against Puno, Lacierda said he could not say and that it would be up to the former DILG undersecretary to decide on his counsel.
Lacierda could not say if the reports of Puno’s resignation before Robredo died and on Sept. 1 were true.
“I don’t know the date of the resignation letter. But what is very clear is that the Executive Secretary received it only last Friday. And that is also the basis why the President said in Russia that he has not yet received a copy of the resignation letter. So what is clear is that the Executive Secretary received the resignation letter on Friday while we were already on our way to Russia. It was only yesterday that he saw the resignation letter,” he said.
Asked if Puno had become a burden to the administration, Lacierda said: “I think it’s water under the bridge now. I would not wish to comment anymore on those points. The fact is that Undersecretary Puno has already resigned.”
Chronology of events
In his statement, Puno also gave a chronology of events to explain the circumstances that led him and some police officers to secure Robredo’s offices and try to enter the latter’s condominium unit in Quezon City.
Puno said he was about to board a Cebu Pacific flight from Mactan, Cebu to Manila at 8:45 p.m. on Aug. 18 when the President called and instructed him to secure the offices of Robredo.
“I relayed the instructions to Superintendent Oliver Tanseco, deputy chief of the Office of Internal Security in Secretary Robredo’s office,” Puno said.
Upon his arrival in Manila, Puno said he proceeded to Philippine National Police Director-General’s quarters or the “White House” where he saw DILG Undersecretary Austere Panadero, PNP chief Director General Nicanor Bartolome, Joan de la Cruz, a member of Robredo’s staff, and Tanseco.
“The President called again and I reported the offices have been secured,” Puno said.
On Aug. 19, Puno said he supervised the “sealing” of Robredo’s office at the DILG with Senior Superintendent Joel Pagdilao, Tanseco, Chief Inspector Apollo Togonon and other security officers of Robredo.
Puno said he led a team to secure Robredo’s condominium unit after being told by Tanseco that documents were also being kept there.
He said he stayed at the condominium lobby and instructed the team to “sign condominium log book to document our presence” and “left condominium after about 20 minutes.”
Puno stressed he also accompanied Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and the Presidential Security Group team that inspected and secured Robredo’s offices and condominium unit.
“Entire operations were completed at around 7 p.m.,” Puno said.
Meanwhile, Malacañang said it will not stop Cabinet members and other officials of the executive branch from attending the Senate hearing on Puno.
“All officials in the Executive under the Aquino administration have always participated when called to investigations of Congress,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a text message to reporters.
“It is the prerogative of the Senate to call for investigations in aid of legislation and we respect the exercise of its prerogative,” Valte said.
Aside from Puno, the other resource persons invited to the Senate hearing are Roxas, Ochoa, De Lima and Robredo’s widow Ma. Leonor. With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Alexis Romero, Paolo Romero, Eva Visperas, Christina Mendez