Santiago grills Puno on PNP ‘overpriced’ firearms dealBy Matikas Santos
MANILA, Philippines—Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago grilled resigned Interior undersecretary Rico Puno Friday on his alleged links to illegal logging, “jueteng” and the purchase of overpriced firearms.
The longtime shooting range buddy of President Benigno Aquino denied the accusations at the opening of the Senate inquiry chaired by Santiago.
Santiago questioned Puno’s alleged meddling in the bids and awards committee of the Philippine National Police (PNP), specifically in the procurement of the Glock pistols when he was supposed to be an observer only in the bidding process.
Puno however said that he was part of the bids and awards committee being a representative of then Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo.
He said he was regularly submitting reports to Robredo, who died in a plane crash off Masbate on August 18.
Puno argued that he was just exercising his duty as undersecretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government, which has authority over the PNP.
Santiago however pointed out that Robredo had his own representative in the bidding committee. At the same time, she questioned why Puno’s personal consultant was also actively participating in the bidding process.
Santiago said Puno had even gone as far as calling all the bidders to a meeting to discuss the deal despite being just an observer.
Puno responded: “I just see to it that everything is in order and very transparent.”
Santiago also asked Puno if he was among the government officials getting protection money from operators of the illegal numbers game “jueteng” as alleged by retired Catholic Archbishop Oscar Cruz.
She said that one percent of the estimated P30 billion revenues generated annually through “jueteng” was going to either the DILG secretary or undersecretary, the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) chief, or the PNP.
“Jueteng is the biggest form of corruption in the country, all else are minute,” Santiago said. “Jueteng is everywhere.”
She said it was impossible for “jueteng” to continue without protection from government officials.
Puno denied this and during his opening statement he even charged that all those accusing him were just lying.
“My accusers either knowingly lied through their teeth or irresponsibly maligned my person on the weakness of their hearsay sources,” he said.
The issue of the Luneta hostage crisis and Puno’s involvement in the bungled rescue where nine people died in August 2010 was also scrutinized by Santiago.
She said that in the first report of the Incident Review Committee (IRC), Justice Secretary Leila De Lima recommended the filing of administrative and criminal charges against Puno for his “gross negligence”.
Malacañang then admitted that Puno had authority over the PNP as DILG undersecretary.
But Puno was completely absolved of all faults after the report was reviewed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Santiago said.
“[Ochoa] completely reverses the recommendations of the Secretary of Justice,” Santiago said.
“It was shown that there was no participation of Undersecretary Puno in any of eight critical incidents identified by the IRC that affected the final outcome of the hostage crisis,” Santiago read from the review of the executive secretary.
Aside from Santiago, who is the chairperson of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revisions of codes and laws, only two senators attended Friday’s hearing—Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Aquilino Pimentel III.
Where have all the senators gone?
Archbishop Oscar Cruz and Director General Nicanor Bartolome, PNP Chief, were also present at the hearing.
Santiago said that she would not issue a committee report and any recommendations to the Senate “because they will not follow it, judging by their presence this afternoon.”
She however said that she had no ill-feelings towards the other senators who did not attend because “it’s just politics. As for me I no longer have a political future because when the International Criminal Court calls me I will go.”
Puno on Tuesday announced he was stepping down from his post as DILG undersecretary to give incoming Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas a free hand to form a new team.