MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang said that there is no cover-up when the President explained that he was the one who instructed Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno to seal the office of DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo following the plane crash.
Speaking to reporters in Russia, President Aquino said he found nothing irregular with Puno going to Robredo’s condominium unit because “he probably thought there were papers there to secure as well.” This is even if the instruction was to seal only the office.
In Manila, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Puno should not be seen as an “untouchable” even if he said there is no information if Puno will be asked to explain why he went to Robredo’s condominium unit as well.
“He’s not untouchable. Nobody is untouchable in this administration,” Lacierda said.
Asked why Justice Secretary Leila de Lima had to go and secure Robredo’s papers in his office as well, Lacierda said de Lima did so upon her own initiative.
“Secretary de Lima, remember, was the one who texted the President of the need to secure the office. I spoke to Secretary Leila de Lima if she entered also the office. And she said, ‘Yes,’ she also did. But she did on her own initiative because of her concern also for the sensitive nature of the office of Secretary Robredo. She was not instructed by the President to go, as far as I know. That’s what she told me. It’s her own initiative,” Lacierda said.
“It was to secure the office, to seal. Chineck ni Secretary Leila de Lima ang office. Nandoon din si Usec. Puno nung nandun din si Sec. Leila de Lima. And she sealed the office. And Usec. Puno was fully aware of it,” he added.
Puno being investigated?
Lacierda said he is not aware if before he died, Robredo indeed informed the President that Puno was being investigated.
“I’m not aware of any such statement of Sec. Jesse Robredo to the President,” he said.
He said what is clear is that the President wanted to stop and investigate the bidding process for the rifles to be purchased by the Philippine National Police after finding out on the Internet that the rifle’s price in the market was lower than the bid price.
Aquino told reporters in Russia:
“Parang I wanted to know exactly why. Parang simple question lang doon, bakit walang tumingin sa internet at nag-check lang? Bibili kang isang piraso, makukuha mo ng ganitong presyo e kung bibili kang kung isandaan, kung dalawang daan, kung limang daan o isang libong piraso, syempre may discount na papasok doon. So that was something that Secretary Robredo was also checking up on. So basically, hindi ko type ‘yung mga sagot. Parang ’yung mga sagot ay nagbigay ng mga tanong ulit. So pinahinto ko ‘yung buong proseso para doon sa rifle dahil—at sa totoo lang somehow, nakalusot doon sa bureaucracy—may umabot na post evaluation period after sinabi kong ihinto. At pinatanong ko nga, bakit nagkakaroon ng testing kung ang utos sa inyo ay ihinto? So lahat ng involve doon ay… subject to an investigation at medyo floating muna lalo na ‘yung uniformed personnel.”
Lacierda said in Manila: “Ang alam namin ang iniinvestigate ngayon ‘yung process itself. Yung BAC (Bids and Awards Committee). What happened to that BAC. ‘Yung DILG is investigating the BAC. I don’t know if there is any on Usec. Puno.”
Puno: An asset or liability?
The Palace is leaving it to Puno if he would want to personally rebut various allegations against him in media.
Lacierda declined to comment on observations that Puno has become a liability to the President.
“I cannot comment on whether he’s a liability or not. Is he a liability? I don’t know. Is he not a liability? I also don’t know… The issue here is on whether instructions were given. We just made it clear, the instruction was to secure the office of Secretary Robredo because of the sensitive nature of his position and the confidential investigations that he was undertaking,” he said.
Meantime, the Palace sees nothing wrong with the designation of Puno as undersecretary that supervised the PNP, saying that Robredo had the final responsibility over the police and that the buck stopped with him.
“To our mind and to our government, there is no irregularity there. There are Usecs involved—Usec of this, Usec of that. You’ve got the Usec, for instance, of Administration and Finance. It does not mean the buck stops with the Undersecretary of Finance and Administration. The buck stops with the Cabinet secretaries,” Lacierda said when asked to react about the desire of Senator Miriam Santiago to conduct a probe into Puno’s authority.
“The position and the plantilla in the DILG is there’s one Cabinet secretary and there are two undersecretaries: one for local government, which is the position of Austere Panadero, and the other is for police and this occupied by Undersecretary Puno. Of course, the final responsibility in that particular department is with Secretary Robredo and, in fact, he has jurisdiction over the police. And that has been demonstrated in his various instructions during several situations where the police were involved. It was Secretary Robredo who was giving out instructions,” Lacierda said.
No 'free hand' for Mar?
Lacierda said there is also “no inconsistency” in the possibility that PNP Chief Nicanor Bartolome will be appointed by the President to replace Puno even if the President gave Roxas a free hand to bring in his own men into the DILG when he assumes his post as secretary.
Lacierda said Bartolome’s appointment is not yet final until further discussions with Roxas.
“That should not be inconsistent kasi mag-uusap naman sila ni Secretary Mar Roxas, ‘di ba? So pag-uusapan naman nila Presidente, ni General Bartolome, at saka ni Secretary Mar Roxas. So let’s wait… There should be no inconsistency there,” he said.
“Si Secretary Mar Roxas would also have to listen to the President because si Secretary Mar Roxas has never dealt with police matters. So, syempre, ang mas nakakaalam din doon si Pangulong Aquino. So obviously the President will give him the best person to recommend… Again, the President also emphasized that Secretary Mar Roxas will be given a free hand. So let’s wait na lang for the final announcement,” Lacierda added.
No comment on Oscar Cruz
The Palace declined to respond on a reported allegation of retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz that jueteng has thrived under the Aquino administration, only to say that the late Secretary Robredo did run after jueteng operations.
“Pagdating kay Archbishop Cruz hindi na po kami nagko-comment e,” Lacierda said.