Puno may ‘go the way of Diokno,’ says source close to AquinoBy Christian V. Esguerra
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Has Rico E. Puno been uprooted for good? Or will he be “earth-balled” into another plum post under the Aquino administration?
President Aquino is not inclined to move—or earth-ball—the resigned undersecretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to another government assignment, according to an administration insider.
The source, who is identified with the President’s inner circle, said Puno would likely go the way of ex-Bureau of Corrections chief Ernesto Diokno, a close friend of Aquino like the former DILG executive.
Diokno quit his post in 2011 amid a scandal involving inmates sneaking out of the New Bilibid Prisons. But despite his close ties with the President, he never got another post, said the source who asked not to be named for lack of authority to speak publicly on the matter.
In the case of Puno, Aquino himself had asked him to resign as early as two months ago in connection with the allegedly overpriced procurement of M4 rifles for the Philippine National Police, the informant said.
The resignation had nothing to do with Puno’s purported “raids” on the offices of the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo to secure DILG documents, the source said. Instead, it supposedly had everything to do with the PNP gun purchase.
“Pare, masyado nang maraming nangyari (Friend, too many things have happened),” the informant recalled Aquino as telling Puno when he told his longtime shooting range buddy that it was time to step down.
“He was asked to resign as early as July.”
Here’s how Puno’s supposed downfall began, according to the administration source.
Before the President’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 23, he confronted Puno about the overpriced rifles that the PNP was planning to purchase.
Aquino later spoke about the matter during his recent trip to Russia, saying: “I searched Google and I discovered there were plenty of rifles selling below $1,000. So I asked them why was $1,000 converted to P80,000? And that started the investigation.”
In that interview with reporters at the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, the President clarified that only the procurement process—not Puno—was under investigation.
But the source said the President had quietly taken Puno to task for failing to stop the procurement process despite serious questions on matters such as price and specifications.
“He got irked because he asked them (Puno and PNP officials) to stop the procurement but they went ahead with it,” the source said in Filipino. “(Puno) did nothing and the President was upset.”
The procurement process was halted only after some of the rifles failed the “post-evaluation,” according to the source.
Asked if Puno’s resignation could be considered as a falling-out with the President, the source said: “Yes, in a sense, but not entirely.” He did not elaborate, but recalled that the relationship had also been strained during the Quirino Grandstand hostage crisis in 2010.
That time, Puno got part of the blame over the botched police rescue operation that led to the death of eight Hong Kong tourists. A subsequent investigation showed that Puno had direct supervision over the PNP as part of an unusual administrative setup at the DILG.
The source, who was also privy to how Aquino dealt with Puno then, claimed that the DILG undersecretary had also been asked to quit. But a supposed appeal from Puno’s loved ones prompted the President’s change of heart.