Puno out; Bartolome in
RUSSKIY ISLAND, Vladivostok—President Benigno Aquino plans to name Director General Nicanor Bartolome of the Philippine National Police as replacement for beleaguered Undersecretary Rico Puno in the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
In a briefing on Saturday night, the President defended Puno against corruption charges, saying the interior undersecretary still had his trust and confidence.
Mr. Aquino, here for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, said Puno would be transferred to a department depending on the undersecretary’s preference and expertise.
The President described Puno as his “eyes and ears in the DILG,” amid media reports of Puno’s alleged involvement in several questionable auctions involving police firearms that were being investigated by Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo before he died in a plane crash on August 18.
Mr. Aquino said he himself had discovered the overprice in the purchase of assault rifles on Google, and that this started the investigation of Robredo. He said the rifles sold below $1,000 each against the PNP’s purchase price of P80,000 a unit.
However, Mr. Aquino said the total amount involved was too small and was not worth Puno’s ruining his reputation over the deal.
Two days after the plane crash and while searchers were scouring the waters off Masbate for the missing Robredo, Puno allegedly attempted to enter Robredo’s offices and his condominium apartment in search of documents. Mr. Aquino said he directed Puno to lock down the offices, but not the apartment.
“General Bartolome will retire by March next year. When he retires, his successor will jump in the middle of the elections or two months before actual voting. And we expect our elections to be peaceful? That will be like mission impossible,” the President said.
Official sources say that former Director Alan Purisima of the National Capital Region Police Office, who was recently promoted to chief of directorial staff as Bartolome’s second in command, is next in line to succeed Bartolome when the PNP chief retires on March 16, 2013.
“I actually asked Director General Bartolome to consider to resign earlier. He will be given a different position so as to afford the next director general time to get a firm hold of the forces that are in the PNP to ensure that we have peaceful elections. He (Bartolome) might replace Undersecretary Puno,” Mr. Aquino said.
The President, however, did not explain how the appointment of Bartolome would be taken by incoming Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas, who has already declared he wanted to bring his own team when he takes over the department.
Mr. Aquino reiterated that he would give Roxas the “freedom” to find people who would help him achieve his mission in the department. During his stint, Robredo was perceived as sharing the DILG power with Puno who was given full control of police matters and who reported directly to the President.
The President said he had to make appointments in the DILG because Roxas could not assume his post until he gets confirmation from the Commission on Appointments while Congress is in session.
He said there would be a void in the DILG (currently supervised by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa as officer in charge) because its two undersecretaries have to resign and the five assistant secretaries would be considered coterminous with Robredo.
“The [personnel] movements are too close to each other. There are vacancies to be filled. Should we wait until Secretary Roxas will be confirmed? Who will be the bureau chiefs to take charge of the DILG? Before they leave, we must make sure they have replacements,” the President said.
New gov’t post?
Mr. Aquino said he would ask Puno if he was still interested in serving in another government post.
“It’s like going to something far different from the world he came from where he is the center of controversy. For instance, in the hostage crisis, he was pilloried and I assumed full responsibility for that,” he said, referring to the Rizal Park hostage fiasco on Aug. 23, 2010, that was blamed on Puno.
The President said he was willing to give Puno the benefit of the doubt that it was just a lapse on his part (and not “pinalusot” as claimed by his accusers) that he allowed the bidding process for the rifles to continue despite his order to stop.
“How many rifles were involved? It’s not that big. If ever, it will only total a few millions. Would you ruin your reputation for a few millions that you will only spend for a lawyer if you are charged? It doesn’t make sense,” he said.
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