House drops probe on Rico E. Puno
Solons decide not to waste time on ex-usecBy Christian V. Esguerra
Philippine Daily Inquirer
After emerging unscathed from a Senate grilling, resigned Interior Undersecretary Rico E. Puno is escaping questioning in a House inquiry into an allegedly irregular police firearms deal.
The reason? The proponents of the House investigation do not want to duplicate the Senate inquiry, which failed to pin down Puno in an alleged cover-up of irregularities in auctions for new firearms for the Philippine National Police and the proliferation of the illegal numbers game jueteng on his watch as interior undersecretary for public order and safety.
Expecting Puno to just reprise his cool performance in the Senate inquiry on Friday, the House committee on public order and safety has decided to drop its own investigation into the police firearms program.
Puno resigned on Monday amid suspicions that he tried to remove papers on the investigation into those irregularities from the offices and apartment of Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo a day after the home affairs chief’s plane crashed in Masbate on Aug. 18.
President Benigno Aquino III accepted his resignation. He faced the Senate investigation on Friday, denying all the allegations that made him unpopular since taking office at the Department of the Interior and Local Government in 2010.
“The House investigation on the procurement of firearms will no longer push through,” Rep. Angelo Palmones of the Agham party-list told the Inquirer by phone Friday night.
No longer necessary
Palmones said he reviewed the proceedings at Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s committee on constitutional amendments and revision of laws, and was convinced there was no longer a “necessity for the House to continue the probe.”
Cebu Rep. Pablo John Garcia, the House committee chair, was “satisfied with what was discussed earlier in the Senate,” Palmones said.
“It was heard entirely by the Filipino people so what’s left for us to investigate?” he quoted Garcia as telling him and Antipolo Rep. Romeo Acop.
Palmones and Acop filed a joint resolution on Wednesday asking the House to look into the PNP’s procurement of nearly 60,000 Glock 17 Generation 4 pistols worth P1 billion.
Malacañang had cleared the purchase of the Glock 17 9mm semiautomatic pistols, but raised questions about the purchase of M4 carbines for the PNP.
The M4 is a shorter version of the battlefield rifle M16 designed for close-quarters combat. The military version is made by Colt’s Manufacturing Co. of Hartford, Connecticut, in the United States, while the civilian version, available for sale to police forces, is made by Bushmaster International of Madison, North Carolina, United States.
As it is intended for police use, the M4 being considered by the PNP should be the civilian M4 carbine made by Bushmaster, which is priced lower than the military M4 made by Colt’s.
President Aquino, a gun enthusiast, had found the M4s being considered by the PNP “overpriced.”
In a talk with reporters during a break in the 20th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) leaders’ summit in Vladivostok, Russia, on Sept. 8, Mr. Aquino said he had been surfing the Internet and learned that the M4 was going for as low as $800, or about P32,000. But the M4s chosen by the PNP under Puno’s guidance cost P80,000 apiece, more than double the carbine’s actual price.
Asked to resign
Mr. Aquino said his discovery led to an investigation, but he did not say whether Puno, his shooting-range buddy, was also under investigation.
After the investigation, Malacañang scrapped the M4 deal. A source within the administration told the Inquirer earlier this week that the President asked Puno to quit in July because of that weapons contract.
The PNP, however, said Puno had nothing to do with the M4 program, his role on the bids and awards committee being merely advisory.
Police officials repeated that statement at the Senate inquiry on Friday, and Puno himself denied having a hand in the PNP’s choice of the M4.
He took pride, however, in guiding the choice of the Glock 17, saying his advice had been intended to ensure the country’s policemen would carry the best sidearm.
A losing bidder had questioned the PNP’s decision to go with the Glock 17, claiming the Austrian-made Glock, in service in 63 percent of police departments in the United States, overheats after firing 5,000 rounds.
But President Aquino, who knows guns, shot down the losing bidder’s argument, saying any pistol would overheat after firing so many rounds. Satisfied with the terms of the Glock deal, the Palace approved the contract.
The losing bidder had offered the Jericho 941, a 9mm semiautomatic pistol made by Israel Weapons International (IWI) and designed as a shorter version of the .50 caliber Desert Eagle semiautomatic pistol made by Israel Military Industry. The losing bidder claimed that Puno visited IWI’s factory before the auction for the pistol contract.
In his testimony in the Senate on Friday, Puno confirmed that he traveled to Israel, but did not say when he took the trip. He said he was on vacation at the time, it was a private trip, and he denied visiting the IWI factory.
Santiago nevertheless criticized Puno for interfering in the procurement process even if he sat on the PNP’s bids and awards committee only as an “observer.”
She described Puno as so powerful he could gather all the bidders in just one meeting.
Puno defended himself against insinuations of influencing the auction. He said he called all the proponents “because we wanted the best types of firearms.”
Santiago’s committee closed its inquiry empty-handed. But Santiago said she was not convinced of Puno’s defense, especially in the proliferation of jueteng on his watch, leaving Puno still under a cloud though not facing the prospect of prosecution.
Waste of time
Expecting to run into the same frustration, Palmones and Acop decided not to waste time on Puno.
Palmones said he would not file another resolution for an investigation into the M4 deal, which had been halted anyway.
Garcia confirmed that his committee would no longer proceed with the investigation of Puno, but said it was because Palmones and Acop felt that a probe would only duplicate the Senate inquiry.
“I spoke with him (Palmones) as well and he said he and Congressman Acop talked and it was their feeling that the questions they wanted to ask had been answered in the Senate, and that a probe in the House would be a duplication,” Garcia said in a text message.
“So since the proponents are satisfied that a probe is no longer necessary, the committee, I think, would defer to their judgment.”
First posted 12:07 am | Sunday, September 16th, 2012