Rifle deal triggered Puno’s fall at DILGBy Christian V. Esguerra, Leila B. Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
An administration insider revealed to the Philippine Daily Inquirer that President Benigno Aquino personally asked Undersecretary Rico E. Puno to resign as early as July over the allegedly overpriced M4 rifles that the Philippine National Police insisted Thursday was aboveboard.
According to the source, Puno’s resignation had nothing to do with his purported “raids” on the offices or the condominium apartment of Jesse Robredo less than 24 hours after the plane carrying the secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government disappeared on August 18 off Masbate and an intense search for the aircraft was in progress.
The source stressed it was all about the gun deal that Mr. Aquino said he found overpriced when he searched Google on the Internet. Mr. Aquino said this in an interview with reporters in Vladivostok, Russia, on Saturday at the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific summit while a furor erupted in Manila over Puno’s raids even before Robredo’s body was recovered after a three-day search.
On Thursday, PNP Deputy Director General Emelito Sarmiento went to the House of Representatives and cleared Puno of charges the DILG undersecretary had intervened in the firearms procurement.
Sarmiento said Puno was not a voting member of the PNP bidding committee. “He has no influence over us,” said Sarmiento, head of the committee.
“He was asked to resign as early as July,” the Inquirer informant said Thursday.
“Pare, masyado nang maraming nangyari (Friend, so much has happened),” the source quoted Mr. Aquino as telling Puno, his longtime shooting range buddy, that it was time for him to step down.
The source said that the President confronted Puno before his State of the Nation Address on July 23 about the rifles the PNP was planning to purchase.
The source said the President quietly took Puno to task for failing to stop the procurement process despite serious questions on pricing 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. “(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.
The Inquirer tried, but failed to contact Puno on his mobile phone. A member of his staff said Puno would rather wait for the article to be published before issuing any statement.
Malacañang announced on Monday that it had accepted Puno’s resignation in a letter submitted last Friday. Puno said he was resigning to give DILG secretary-designate Manuel Roxas a free hand in reorganizing the department.
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.”
The source did not elaborate, but recalled that the relationship had also been strained during the Quirino hostage crisis in August 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 Mr. 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.
In the interview with Filipino reporters in Vladivostok, Mr. Aquino said, “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.” But the President clarified that only the procurement process—not Puno—was under investigation.
In fact, the President even defended Puno’s purported raids. He said that he gave the orders for the “lockdown” on the DILG offices to secure state papers after the Robredo plane crash.
He said that Puno continued to enjoy his trust and confidence and pointed out that he even took personal responsibility for the hostage-taking fiasco two months into his presidency. He said that Puno was his “eyes and ears” in the DILG.
PNP to go after losers
Sarmiento met with Agham Representative Angelo Palmones, who filed a resolution in July to investigate the PNP’s purchase of 60,000 pistols worth P1 billion, and asked him for help in penalizing losing bidders who disrupted the bidding process by spreading rumors after they lost.
A firearm supplier questioned the awarding of the contract to Glock Asia Pacific and its local partner Trust Trade, and alleged that anomalies had marred the process.
According to Sarmiento, Puno sat in the meetings of the bids and awards committee (BAC) and sometimes provided inputs, but the committee made its own, independent decisions.
“Undersecretary Puno is not a voting member and he has no influence over us. We are very independent. He can make suggestions during our proceedings, and we weigh these,” Sarmiento said.
Sarmiento also said he did not think Puno had done anything improper.
He added that the bidding proceedings were open to a lot of observers, including a representative of Robredo, and recorded on video. The committee’s technical working group was assisted by lawyers and accountants to see to it that documents were in order.
The BAC is also being careful because it has learned from PNP officials who faced legal troubles because of questionable purchases, Sarmiento said.
The procurement of 60,000 pistols was aboveboard and the deal, in fact, was just awaiting the signature of PNP chief Nicanor Bartolome, he said.
Sarmiento said the losing bidders should exhaust administrative remedies if they wanted to complain. Unfortunately, some of them tend to bring their complaints to media outfits and sow intrigues.
“We are very open to their motions for reconsideration,” he said.
Sarmiento said that bidders who created trouble without basis must be punished because the PNP would suffer and may even face trumped up charges, and would be put into a position where it would find it hard to defend itself. He asked lawmakers for help in going after such practices.
The House hearing on the issue would be held after the budget deliberations, Palmones said. With a report from Marlon Ramos