MANILA, Philippines – Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago on Monday said she believes that DILG Undersecretary Rico Puno has direct knowledge of anomalous deals involving the Philippine National Police.
Speaking to ABS-CBN’s Umagang Kay Ganda, Santiago said she is surprised that Puno has opted to remain silent when he is accused of so many things including possible links to illegal logging and shepherding an overpriced firearms deal with the PNP.
“There is reasonable ground to believe that he is involved or he is at least if not necessarily involved that he has knowledge and therefore consent of certain anomalous deals concerning the PNP. That is clear,” she said.
The senator said that as a public official, Puno cannot remain silent for long even if he is removed as DILG Undersecretary.
“If public funds are involved, he has no right to remain silent because of the constitutional right of the people on matters of public concern. There is a policy of transparency,” she said.
Puno, PNP chief Nicanor Bartolome and other police officials have been summoned to a hearing of the Senate committee on revision of codes and laws on Friday.
Santiago said Puno seemed to have a “powerful backer” since his appointment led to a split of powers inside the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
The senator pointed out that Puno’s appointment as DILG undersecretary for peace and order removed all control and supervision of the PNP from then DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo in violation of the Administrative Code.
She also said Puno has to answer for his "visit" to Robredo's condo unit last August 19, a day after Robredo's plane crashed.
She noted that Puno was only given orders by President Aquino to secure Robredo's office, and not his house.
In a separate interview, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Sonny Coloma said Puno continues to retain the full trust and confidence of President Aquino despite his removal as DILG Undersecretary.
"Siya na rin ang nagsabi na buo pa ang tiwala at kumpyansa niya kay Undersecretary Puno," he said.
Robredo probing Puno before death
A TV Patrol report earlier revealed Robredo was investigating the PNP's plan to purchase assault rifles, that involved two procurements of nearly P178 million and P213 million.
A DILG report shows that the documents may implicate Puno in the alleged anomalous arms deal.
The document shows that Puno travelled to Israel upon the invitation of weapons manufacturer Israel Military Industries (IMI).
Puno was accompanied by former Special Action Forces Chief Leocadio Santiago, Reynaldo Espineli, owner of a defense and security company, and Puno's consultant, Ramiro Lopez III.
Lopez is said to have accompanied Puno when the undersecretary went to Robredo's office at the National Police Commission a day after the plane crash.
The DILG report says Puno's group left for Israel on May 10, the same date of the second pre-bid conference for the purchase of short firearms.
It cites a possible conflict of interest since Puno and Lopez were both members of the bids and awards committee.
Espineli and IMI won the bid for assault rifles out of seven bidders.
The report also says specifications of the assault rifles seem to have been amended to favor a particular bidder.
Robredo initially sought a review of the price for the assault rifles.
But while the bidding process was suspended, Robredo still wanted to hold some officials accountable for pushing for the deal.