President Aquino ordered lockdown
Santiago seeks probe of Puno’s ‘unique authority’By Gil Cabacungan, Norman Bordadora and TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
President Benigno Aquino III on Saturday night confirmed that he ordered the offices of Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo locked down immediately after the Cabinet official’s plane crashed on Aug. 18, and gave that task to Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno.
Mr. Aquino explained that it was “logical” that Puno would handle it since there were only two Interior undersecretaries and Puno was in charge of police matters.
His disclosure confirmed earlier statements by a police officer who was with Puno when the latter tried to enter Robredo’s condominium and who said the lockdown order came from the President.
In an ambush interview on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vladivostok, the President said his order was to secure Robredo’s offices.
Asked why Puno also went to the condo, he said Puno might have assumed that his order also covered the condo and that he was fine with that as long as all the sensitive documents were secured.
Mr. Aquino said he wanted to secure the documents because he had been told by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima that Robredo was then conducting several investigations.
Mr. Aquino believes Puno was not involved in the investigations and that he should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
But Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago has called for a Senate investigation into the circumstances behind President Aquino’s appointment of Puno, who she said had the “unique, if not anomalous” authority to control the Philippine National Police during the incumbency of Robredo.
Santiago said she wanted to “unmask” the influential person or group that exerted “severe pressure” on the President to appoint Puno as undersecretary and give him powers over the PNP that, according to her, were reserved only for the department secretary.
Santiago also questioned what she called “the deafening silence” of Puno on the investigation into Puno’s alleged dealings with arms suppliers, illegal loggers and even illegal gambling operators.
“First of all, why is he so important and so unique that among the undersecretaries of the DILG, he seems to have been the only one for whom, in whose favor one-half of the powers and functions… were taken away from the DILG secretary and given to him?” Santiago told a news conference.
The tragic death of the reformist Robredo in an Aug. 18 plane crash was back in the spotlight this week after reports that the late secretary was in the midst of investigating possible irregularities in his department, which may have involved his undersecretary.
Ricky Carandang, one of the Palace communication secretaries, said on Friday that before his death, Robredo was “conducting a number of very sensitive investigations,” but declined to say who or what was being investigated.
It has been reported that after Robredo’s plane went missing, and as the hunt for his body was still under way, Puno, accompanied by police aides, tried to enter Robredo’s Quezon City condominium but were rebuffed. Puno and his aides also reportedly visited other offices of Robredo.
Unique, if not anomalous
“Why was he there? What was he looking for? Why is it absolutely necessary to grab hold of them? What is he hiding? Let him answer that before the public because that’s the question everybody is asking,” Santiago said of Puno’s reported visit to Robredo’s condominium.
“This case of Mr. Puno is completely unique if not anomalous. Why would the PNP or the national police that should be controlled or under the mandate of the secretary be given to the undersecretary? It was as if you had two secretaries,” she said.
Santiago believes Puno was able to occupy the office of the undersecretary “with these unique or exceptional or anomalous powers because of severe pressure exerted on President Aquino.”
She said she wanted to know which powerful individual or group secured for Puno that authority usually reserved for secretaries to have the most important function in the Department of the Interior and Local Government, that is, to exercise control and supervision over the PNP.
“This person or group has quite an influence to pressure the President to put him there. Who is this person?” Santiago said.
“Because, if it is true as it is now being bruited about in the entire country that Mr. Puno is a suspect in certain criminal syndicates such as logging, arms dealing, jueteng, that is coursed through the person, who acted as his patron for him to be in that place in government? That is now on the Internet and in social media,” she added.
Santiago said that while the undersecretary has the right to remain silent, he has an obligation to be transparent as a public official.
“Be transparent. If you’re innocent, immediately speak up,” Santiago said.
Malacañang’s silence, on the other hand, is an indication of infighting among the factions in the administration, she said.
“I’ve been around long enough to know that this kind of complicated issue means that there are sides quarreling. They are both fighting for the ear of the President,” she said, adding that she sympathizes with Mr. Aquino.
Santiago said there are power blocs in every administration regardless of who the President is.
“Each has its own agenda and the agenda, to put it bluntly, is whether those involved would earn from the spoils, whether they could share in the earnings of another, and whether the other side could help in the next elections,” she said.
Supt. Oliver Tanseco, one of the police officers who was with Puno when the latter reportedly tried to enter Robredo’s condominium, claimed that Mr. Aquino had ordered Puno to “lock down” Robredo’s apartment and offices on the night of Aug. 18.
De Lima, who issued orders to secure the documents in Robredo’s condominium unit at the request of Robredo’s wife on Aug. 20 and 21, did not return calls.
Tanseco claimed that on the night of Aug. 18, the President called Puno and issued the order “to lock down all the offices and personal belongings” of the missing interior secretary. He said Puno and the police officers went to Robredo’s apartment and office the next day to carry out the order.
A Malacañang official, who asked not to be named said Tanseco’s statement did not seem to jibe with De Lima’s order to secure Robredo’s documents.
The official wondered why De Lima would have Robredo’s documents secured if Puno’s team had been ordered earlier to secure his belongings. The official said De Lima’s order was prompted by a request from Robredo’s wife who had been alerted by a household helper that some people had tried to get into the apartment.
“Someone’s lying,” the official said.
Another Malacañang official, who also asked not to be named, said Tanseco’s claim that Puno had gone to Robredo’s apartment on the President’s order was plausible.
“He won’t do that without an order from the President. Why would he log his name?” the official said, expressing doubt that Puno would do anything that would destroy his relationship with the President. “He’s very trusted by the President. They go a long way,” he said.
As to why Puno has chosen to keep quiet, he said: “He’s secure in the trust of the President.”