Bartolome waits for Aquino’s final wordBy Philip C. Tubeza, Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
“I serve at the pleasure of the President.”
Philippine National Police Director General Nicanor Bartolome said this on Monday after President Benigno Aquino announced on Saturday that he was appointing him as the replacement of beleaguered Undersecretary Rico Puno of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
Bartolome said Mr. Aquino informed him of his new assignment when they talked on Sunday, but the PNP chief added that he would still wait for the President’s final decision.
“I will wait for the announcement of our President, but I serve at the pleasure of our Chief Executive,” Bartolome said with a straight face.
PNP sources said the new position could in fact be a demotion for Bartolome.
Bartolome is to step aside in March next year upon reaching the mandatory retirement age for police and military officials of 56, but Mr. Aquino said he had asked Bartolome to do this earlier so that his replacement would have enough time to prepare for the May 2013 elections.
“That is the prerogative of our President and I will wait for his final decision. I said I am a team player so I will wait for that,” Bartolome said. “For now, I cannot give any additional comment because it is only right that the President should be the one to talk about this.”
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda confirmed that Mr. Aquino discussed with Bartolome his new assignment as Puno’s replacement upon the President’s return on Sunday from Russia, where he attended the two-day Asia-Pacific summit.
Lacierda said in a news briefing that the newly designated Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas and Bartolome would meet soon to finalize the reshuffle in the DILG and the PNP. He waffled when asked whether the decision by the President to put Bartolome in the DILG post was final, underlining the sensitivity of the issue.
“That’s the reason why the President’s answer was, ‘I believe so. He might replace Usec. Puno.’ I don’t know what’s definite. Let’s wait for a definite announcement. But, again, that’s the answer of President Aquino during the coffee media briefing (in Russia on Saturday),” Lacierda said.
“That’s the answer of President Aquino, so they will have to discuss. I believe that they will also discuss this matter with Secretary Mar Roxas because … he was given a free hand to come up with his team in DILG. So let’s wait for the announcements,” he said.
Asked whether Bartolome’s abrupt retirement and transfer to a lower post as DILG undersecretary contradicted the President’s assurance to Roxas that he would be given a free hand in the DILG as the successor of the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, Lacierda said:
“That should not be inconsistent because they will talk with Secretary Mar Roxas, isn’t it?”
Lacierda also took pains to explain why the PNP was taken away from Robredo’s supervision during his stint.
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago has called for an investigation of Puno, including the circumstances behind his appointment. She said Puno had the “unique, if not anomalous” authority to control the PNP during the incumbency of Robredo, who died in a plane crash
Santiago said she would like 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.
Lacierda said: “Let’s clarify. The position and the plantilla in the DILG is there’s one Cabinet secretary and there are two undersecretaries: One for local government, which is the position of Austere Panadero, and the other is for police and this is occupied by Undersecretary Puno. Of course, the final responsibility in that particular department is with Secretary Robredo and, in fact, he had jurisdiction over the police.”
He said he found nothing unusual in divesting Robredo of the powers to oversee police matters.
“That has been demonstrated in his various instructions during several situations where the police were involved. It was Secretary Robredo who was giving out instructions. So I don’t see any irregularity there. It’s just also the hierarchy of the DILG explicitly delineates responsibilities of the undersecretaries. But the final responsibility in the department rests with the Cabinet secretary,” Lacierda said.
He also denied that the President’s belated admission that the order to “lock down” the offices of Robredo came from him was a cover-up.
“The tragic day when the plane of Secretary Robredo went down, there was uncertainty on whether he was still alive or not. As the President, he has to be concerned with the office of Secretary Robredo. So it was prudent of him to order the Undersecretary to make sure that the office was secure. As far as we know, the order was given to secure the offices and to make sure that nothing is touched there. And I think that was made very, very clear,” Lacierda said.
He repeated Mr. Aquino’s statement on Saturday that Puno continued to enjoy the President’s trust and confidence.
But he left it to Puno, who has been evading the media, “if he wants to respond to all these queries on allegations against him.” Lacierda could not explain why Puno had not yet resigned to spare the President further embarrassment. He also could not confirm that Puno was being offered a post in the Clark Development Authority.
“Let’s wait for a definite announcement,” he said.
Lacierda declined to comment on suggestions that Puno had become a liability to Mr. Aquino.
“We have not discussed that really, so I cannot comment on whether he’s a liability or not. Is he a liability? I don’t know. Is he not a liability? I also don’t know. The issue here is whether instructions were given. We just made it clear—the instruction (to Puno) was to secure the office of Secretary Robredo because of the sensitive nature of his position and the confidential investigations that he was undertaking,” he said.
Quoting the statement of the President, Lacierda said that with respect to the Luneta hostage-taking crisis in 2010, Puno “was unfairly pilloried on that point.”
“But beyond that, I have no personal knowledge of the decisions taken by Undersecretary Puno. I’ve always dealt with Secretary Robredo, so I am not in a position to comment on Usec. Puno,” Lacierda said.