MANILA, Philippines - Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago is ready with her questions to throw at Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno, who is currently embroiled in another scandal amid a defense laid out by President Aquino.
Aquino’s defense of Puno, who was ordered to secure the documents of the late DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo, only added to the questions lurking at the back of the mind of Santiago.
“Maybe the president is not defending Mr. Puno, but is just trying to assuage or protect the backers of Usec. Puno,” she alleged on Monday.
Asked by reporters who these backers could be, Santiago merely said she’s going to draw them out from the resource persons she invited for Friday’s hearing. “Now, I can’t because I may be accused of unfair allegations without any evidence.”
She said the backers may not be politically-motivated. She said the issue is plain and simple corruption.
When asked about Aquino's plan to transfer Puno to another government office, Santiago answered: “Wow. For me that’s an extravagant statement.”
She said this could be insensitivity on the part of Aquino.
While Puno has not been found guilty, “still he should not be rewarded for prior office when he is surrounded by controversy [and] until these controversies are cleared up.”
Is Puno a sports climber or house burglar?
“Hindi naman siya sports climber or house burglar, so bakit siya nandoon? Iyan ang pagtatanong, kaya nga gusto nating malaman,” Santiago said.
She noted Aquino merely instructed Puno to “secure or lock down the documents” at the DILG offices. Puno, however, also went to Robredo’s condominium.
“So all you have to do - as the term implies - when you are ordered to lockdown is to lock the room and assume responsibility for the keys. But, reportedly, President Aquino never mentioned that he should go to the house as well, but that’s what Usec. Puno did,” Santiago noted.
She said nobody requested Puno to go to the condominium, not even Aquino himself.
“So what was he doing there? What was so urgent that he has to go himself? What were the documents he wanted to get his hands on?” Santiago surmised.
Santiago has set on Friday at 10:30 a.m. the hearing, which she described as an “evaluation of the DILG Undersecretary Rico Puno Event, under the Administrative Code and the DILG Act…”
Besides Puno, Santiago also invited Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. who took over the DILG as interim chief; Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, who said Robredo was also probing illegal logging; Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who was asked to secure Robredo’s condominium a day after the plane crash; DILG Secretary-designate Mar Roxas; and PNP Director General Nicanor Bartolome.
Ma. Leonor “Leni” Robredo, the late Cabinet secretary’s wife, and former Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz were also invited.
Except for the last two, the government officials will be served subpoenas if they fail to attend on Friday, she said.
Guilty of plain discourtesy
She said Puno’s actions already indicate irregularities. “Of course. He was acting ultra vires—outside his authority.”
She said that the house help of the Robredos presumably called Leni in Naga on August 19 to ask if Puno could be allowed inside the condominium. Leni apparently denied Puno entrance, she said.
“That means that, if we are allowed to draw conclusions, Mrs. Robredo does not trust Mr. Puno. This attitude could only have stemmed from her husband’s own attitude,” Santiago noted.
She said she could not think of another basis as to why Leni would not want Puno inside the house.
Santiago said she also wants to know if Puno was given exclusive jurisdiction over the Philippine National Police.
“Is it true that in practice, peace and security—meaning to say the Philippine National Police—was not only delegated to Usec. Puno, but was actually exclusive to him, to the exclusion of his own Secretary. That would become very anomalous.”
If there is something that Puno is guilty of, it is plain discourtesy or unethical conduct, she said. “It would have been very easy to get on the phone with Mrs. Robredo in Naga and ask, ‘Can I have permission to go there?’”