Now, Puno faces 2 probes in CongressBy Cathy Yamsuan, Christian V. Esguerra
Philippine Daily Inquirer
When it rains, it pours for resigned Interior Undersecretary Rico E. Puno.
Besides a Senate hearing scheduled for Friday, Puno will also be investigated by the House committee on public order and safety in connection with the purchase of around 60,000 pistols worth P1 billion for the Philippine National Police.
The investigation will take place in about two weeks because the chamber is still preoccupied with plenary deliberations on the proposed P2-trillion national budget, said Cebu Representative Pablo John Garcia, chairman of the committee.
Garcia said the House inquiry was prompted by a resolution filed by Representatives Angelo Palmones of the Agham party-list group and Romeo Acop of Antipolo City. He said this should not be seen as an attempt by the House to gang up on the beleaguered undersecretary for police affairs in the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
“Usec Puno has already said that he had nothing to do with (the purchase) and it was not overpriced and the process was regular—(the hearing) could be an opportunity and a forum for him to properly air his side,” Garcia said in a phone interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Puno, a shooting-range buddy of President Benigno Aquino, quit his post amid the controversy surrounding the purported “raids” he had conducted on the offices and condominium unit of the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo. Puno has denied any wrongdoing.
Limited to pistol purchase
Unlike the Senate probe, which is expected to also cover “jueteng” operations, the House inquiry would be limited to the pistol purchase, Garcia said.
In their resolution, Palmones and Acop said the investigation should be done “for purposes of good governance, transparency and accountability.”
“The bidding process of … the procurement of firearms as of the recent report has not been completed, and that some bidders have not complied with the required eligibility documents and other necessary bidding documents to qualify for the bid,” they said.
“Some information is being circulated that there is now a winning bidder for the afore-cited police firearms, which is inconsistent with the established bidding procedures…”
A number of PNP officials involved in the bidding process would also be summoned to the House inquiry, said Garcia.
The committee will proceed with the investigation even if no less than Malacañang had cleared the P1-billion deal for the purchase of Glock 17 (Generation 4) 9mm pistols. Glock Asia Pacific Ltd. and its local affiliate, Trust Trade, cornered the contract last August 31.
“Remember, we don’t have problems with the pistols—the (ones manufactured and distributed by) Glock. There’s no problem with the bidding on Glock. It was the bidding on the rifle that the President has some concerns,” presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, earlier said.
Mr. Aquino reportedly halted the bidding for PNP rifles following the discovery that those to be procured had been overpriced.
Senate probe defective
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on Wednesday raised possible technical defects in Friday’s hearing on Puno in the upper chamber, pointing out the absence of a resolution or a proposed legislative measure to justify the inquiry.
There are only two Senate committees—rules chaired by the majority leader and public accountability or blue ribbon—that can conduct investigations motu propio, he said.
Enrile suggested that the Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes and laws headed by Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago might not be the appropriate panel to “evaluate” Puno’s performance in the DILG.
Santiago announced earlier this week she wanted Puno to justify why he assumed the department’s supervision over the police when this was clearly a responsibility of Robredo, who died in a plane crash on August 18. She said the inquiry would determine whether Puno’s assumption of powers of the interior secretary violated the Administrative Code.
She said that because of this “irregular” setup, the illegal numbers game jueteng continued to thrive throughout the country under the Aquino administration.
Enrile reminded Santiago that her committee was concerned “only with proposals to amend the Constitution or revise existing laws.” He said that the Senate committee on public order and illegal drugs chaired by Senator Gregorio Honasan would be a more appropriate panel for the investigation.
Or, Santiago can arrange for a Question Hour as provided by the Constitution since she also intends to invite Cabinet secretaries to the investigation, Enrile said.
A chamber of Congress can invite a Cabinet secretary to answer questions related to his department during the Question Hour. This is usually done during urgent situations such as a power crisis.
Enrile noted that among the invited guests to the hearing are Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. and incoming Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas.
Santiago earlier said that in case the Senate assigned another committee to investigate Puno, she would insist that her panel be the primary committee in the effort.
Enrile said he had nothing against Santiago’s planned face-off with Puno except that it would be better if she filed a resolution calling for the probe before conducting a hearing.
“With due respect to Senator Miriam, an evaluation of Undersecretary Puno’s performance is a function of the executive department. That is not within the jurisdiction of the Senate,” he said.
“Only the President can evaluate the members of his official family, not the Senate. Besides, the undersecretary’s position is not among those subject to confirmation (by the Commission on Appointments),” he added.
Witnesses can object
The Senate President said that apart from the rules and blue ribbon committees, those with oversight functions could also hold investigations motu propio but only in connection with the responsibilities of that specific committee.
“I will not be the one to question all of this because as Senate president, I head the institution. But we have to examine the legalities because there might be issues that would be raised,” Enrile warned. He said he did not raise the warning as a favor to Puno.
“I am not saying that. However, those to be called to the investigation can raise an issue about it,” he explained.
Enrile said he had instructed Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto and the chamber’s legal division to check whether Santiago could hold the investigation without a resolution.
A senator who requested anonymity said Santiago’s hearing could proceed if there’s no objection raised to it.