Enrile defends Puno on Robredo office lockdownBy Cathy C. Yamsuan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on Monday defended Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno, saying the controversial shooting range buddy of President Benigno Aquino was simply following the Chief Executive’s order to “lock down” the offices of the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo to protect state papers.
Enrile told reporters that documents entrusted to Robredo did not belong to the secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) who died in a plane crash on August 18.
“That’s state property,” Enrile said in justifying attempts by Puno to enter Robredo’s offices in the DILG, National Police Commission, and Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Crame, and his condominium apartment two days after the crash and while a search was in progress for the missing secretary.
On Saturday, President Aquino told reporters while he was attending the Asia-Pacific summit in Vladivostok, Russia, amid a furor in Manila that he had ordered Puno to padlock Robredo’s offices. He said Puno might have misunderstood his directive when he attempted to enter Robredo’s private residence.
Mr. Aquino said Puno continued to enjoy his trust and confidence, saying he appointed him to the DILG to be his “eyes and ears.”
He said he himself even took responsibility for the hostage-taking fiasco two months into his presidency that was blamed on Puno, who was in charge of police affairs in the DILG. Eight Hong Kong tourists died in that incident.
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago told reporters Monday that she would summon Puno to appear before her committee on revision of codes and laws on Friday to explain his actions concerning the lockdown.
“Let’s say (Puno) was just trying to get extraneous, only to be safe by going there even if he was not assigned, then why did he ask permission from the maid? It would have been easier to get on the phone with Mrs. Robredo in Naga and ask if he can get inside the (unit),” Santiago said in an ambush interview.
She said ignoring Leni Robredo made Puno “guilty of plain discourtesy or unethical conduct.”
Santiago earlier alleged that the widow’s order to the maid not to let Puno inside the condo unit indicated her lack of trust in the undersecretary, a probable reflection of the secretary’s own attitude toward his subordinate.
Robredo’s widow did not wish to be interviewed by reporters on Monday in Naga City, according to her maid.
Right to retrieve papers
Enrile, however, said the President was aware that “important matters” were discussed in the papers that must be protected.
“The President has the right to see to it that those state papers must be safeguarded,” he said. He added he did not think Puno went to Robredo’s apartment “to rob.”
“He must have gone there to retrieve some records that he knew would be for the department … He’s the No. 2 man in the department. That’s his duty to see to it that the records of the department are retrieved (from) whosoever (was) in possession, especially if the secretary is dead,” Enrile said.
The Constitution states that “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose shall be inviolable.”
Still, Enrile indicated his support for Santiago’s effort to uncover the story behind Puno’s visits to the places where Robredo kept his papers.
In a privilege speech in September 2010, Santiago named Puno among alleged “jueteng” protectors in the DILG and the PNP.
Aside from Puno, Santiago said she would also invite Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, incoming Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas, retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz and Robredo’s widow, who is a lawyer.
Ochoa is the current officer in charge of the DILG. Cruz has also named Puno as among the alleged jueteng protectors.
Santiago said Paje would be called to shed light on the alleged illegal logging activities in Mindanao that was the subject of one document that Robredo kept.
“There will be a lot of sound and fury (during the hearing)—a lot of sound from Mr. Puno and there may be a lot of fury from me,” Santiago warned in jest.
Government officials who would fail to attend Friday’s hearing would be served a subpoena for the next, the senator warned. In case they still fail to show up, Santiago said she would be forced to cite them in contempt.
Santiago urged the President not to give Puno another job in the government. Commenting on Mr. Aquino’s statement that he would ask Puno what new position he wanted, she said, “Wow, for me, that’s an extravagant statement.”
Putting Puno in another position, she said, “might be interpreted as insensitivity to the Filipino public.”
“If a person is under investigation, even if he enjoys the presumption of innocence, still he should not be rewarded … until these controversies are cleared up,” she said.
De Lima told reporters Monday that she did not think Robredo was investigating Puno. “As far as I know, there is no actual official investigation and we can see that if there are documents dwelling on that.”
On the advice of an aide of Robredo, De Lima said she called the President to inform him about the sensitive documents in the possession of Robredo three hours after the plane crash. She said Mr. Aquino told her he would send someone to do so.
She said that by the request of Leni Robredo, she went to the late secretary’s apartment two days after he went missing to retrieve “personal effects.” She said she saw “certain documents,” had them sealed in an envelope and gave it to the widow the next day.
De Lima recalled that she was told by the maid that Puno had gone to the Robredo apartment before she did. “Actually, I don’t want to speculate on that, it might be unfair also,” she said, stressing that the executive branch was “not concealing something here.”
Told that Santiago wanted her to appear in the Senate hearing, De Lima said she would have to clear this with the President. With reports from Christine O. Avendaño and Juan Escandor Jr., Inquirer Southern Luzon
Originally posted: 8:17 pm | Monday, September 10th, 2012