Aquino asks PNP chief to replace PunoBy Gil Cabacungan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
RUSSKIY ISLAND, VLADIVOSTOK, Russia – President Benigno Aquino III has asked the chief of the Philippine National Police to take over the post of Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno.
In a briefing, the President said PNP chief Nicanor Bartolome, who was due to retire on March 16 next year, would be appointed to replace Puno.
“General Bartolome will retire by March next year. When he retires, his successor will jump in the middle of the elections or two months before actual voting and we expect our elections to be peaceful. That will be almost mission impossible,” the President said.
“I actually asked Director General Bartolome also to consider to resign earlier. He will be given a different position so as to afford the next director general time to get a firm hold of the forces that are in the PNP to ensure that we have peaceful elections. He might replace Undersecretary Puno.”
Aquino said he was looking at the possibility of moving Puno to another post.
Since Congress was in session, newly designated Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II has to wait for confirmation from the Commission on Appointment. But the President said he could not wait for Congress to first anoint Roxas before filling up the void in the DILG.
“The movements are too close to each other. There are vacancies to be filled. Should we wait until Secretary Roxas will be confirmed?” asked the President.
Aquino said Puno would be transferred to a department depending on the undersecretary’s preference and expertise.
He said Puno continued to have his trust and confidence, describing him as his “eyes and ears in the Department of the Interior and Local Government,” amid media reports of Puno’s alleged involvement in several questionable bidding for police firearms that were being investigated by the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo before he died in a plane crash on Aug. 18.
The President said he himself had discovered the overprice in the purchase of assault rifles on Google, and that this started the investigation of Robredo. He said the rifles sold below $1,000 each against the PNP’s purchase price of P80,000 a unit.
However, Aquino said the total amount involved was too small and was not worth Puno’s ruining his reputation over the deal.
Two days after the plane crash and while searchers were scouring the waters off Masbate for the missing Robredo, Puno allegedly attempted to enter Robredo’s offices and his condominium apartment in search of documents. Aquino said he directed Puno to lock down the offices, but not the apartment.
“General Bartolome will retire by March next year. When he retires, his successor will jump in the middle of the elections or two months before actual voting. And we expect our elections to be peaceful? That will be like mission impossible,” the President said.
Official sources say that former Director Alan Purisima of the National Capital Region Police Office, who was recently promoted to chief of directorial staff or Bartolome’s second in command, was next in line to succeed Bartolome upon his retirement on March 16, 2013.
The President, however, did not explain how the appointment of Bartolome would be taken by Roxas who has already declared he wanted to bring his own team in taking over the department.
Aquino reiterated that he would give Roxas the “freedom” to find people who would help him achieve his mission in the department. During his stint, Robredo was perceived as sharing the DILG power with Puno who was given full control of police matters and who reported directly to the President.
The President said he would have to make appointments in the DILG because Roxas could not assume his post until being confirmed by the Commission on Appointments during the session of Congress.
He said there would be a void in the DILG (currently supervised by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa as officer in charge) because its two undersecretaries have to resign and the five assistant secretaries would be considered co-terminus with Robredo.
“The (personnel) movements are too close to each other. There are vacancies to be filled. Should we wait until Secretary Roxas will be confirmed? Who will be the bureau chiefs to take charge of the DILG? Before they leave, we must make sure they have replacements,” said the President.
Aquino said he would ask Puno if he was still interested in serving in another government post.
“It’s like going to something far different from the world he came from where he is the center of controversy. For instance, in the hostage crisis, he was pilloried and I assumed full responsibility for that.”
The President said he would be willing to give Puno the benefit of the doubt that it was just a lapse on his part (and not “pinalusot” as claimed by his accusers) that he allowed the bidding process for the rifles to continue despite his order to stop.
“How many rifles were involved? It’s not that big. If ever, it will only total a few millions. Would you ruin your reputation for a few millions that you will only spend for a lawyer if you are charged? It doesn’t make sense,” he said.
The President also confirmed that he ordered Puno to secure the office of Robredo after he was informed by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima that Robredo had sensitive documents in his office.
“There are only two undersecretaries in the DILG. The Secretary is missing, so who do you call? The Undersecretary takes over the department and Puno is in charge of police, fire and jail and (Austere) Panadero is local government. So, it seemed to me at that time logical, to have this person known in the building, who has access to the building, knows the necessary personnel of the place to be the one to seal it. The instructions are—I want to be precise—seal. So whatever the state it was in should be the state it should be in once you unseal,” he said.
When told that Puno had also locked down Robredo’s condominium unit, the President said Puno might have thought that Robredo brought some of his work in his the apartment and took it as part of his order.