MANILA, Philippines – A questionable P391-million procurement of assault rifles for the police by the Department of the Interior and Local Government has been scrapped, but an investigation into the matter will continue so as to dispel suspicions of a cover-up for DILG Undersecretary Rico Puno, Malacañang said yesterday.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, however, could not say if Puno was a subject of the investigation or who were being investigated. Lacierda said the reports on the probe were confidential.
A bigger deal for pistols for the police will push through.
The late interior secretary Jesse Robredo was reportedly investigating the procurement of 1,800 assault rifles from an Israeli firm before his death on Aug. 18. Puno reportedly wanted the deal exempted from public bidding. The deal was scrapped on Aug. 31.
“There was no cover-up. Just to make it clear… there was an investigation,” Lacierda said. “Nobody is untouchable in this administration.”
Lacierda said President Aquino had ordered a probe on the bidding process and not on the persons involved. Lacierda said Aquino made this clear in an interview with the media in Vladivostok, Russia.
The procedure had to be stopped after the President personally noticed that the prices for the guns were much higher than those on the Internet.
Lacierda said the rifles that the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) were planning to bid out were priced at P80,000 each or much higher than those quoted in the President’s Google check.
“So the DILG was asked, what’s the competence of Bids and Awards (Committee)? So he is looking into the process itself. He was investigating the process. But in the meantime, while investigating the process, he already told Secretary Jesse Robredo to stop that bidding and it was stopped,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda said that based on the President’s own Google search, the price of the rifle should only be at most P40,000 apiece and not P80,000.
The original price of the rifle, Lacierda said, was P150,000, and then it went down to P119,000.
“Then when it was being considered by this administration, it’s only P80,000. So presumably, the prices went down but when President Aquino searched on Google, the price was already less than P80,000… around P40,000, so he had some questions… Why is the bid price P80,000?” Lacierda said.
“The investigation continues but not the bidding. Not for Glock. Glock is a pistol. Glock is not the problem. It’s the rifle,” Lacierda said.
Asked if newly appointed Interior Secretary Roxas would continue with the investigation, Lacierda said yes and reiterated that “what will not continue is the bidding.”
“I have no idea right now who is leading the investigation,” he said. “It’s currently being investigated. I don’t know what’s the status of the investigation right now.”
Lacierda said it would be up to Puno to decide whether to face the media and explain his side.
“We will leave that with Undersecretary Puno. At a certain point if he wants to respond to all these queries and allegations against him, we will leave it up to him. We can only speak for the President – what his instructions were – and that, I think, is very clear,” Lacierda said.
The PNP, for its part, said it scrapped two batches of procurement for assault rifles worth P391 million last Aug. 31, or 13 days after the plane crash that killed Robredo.
Deputy Director General Emelito Sarmiento, PNP BAC chairman, said he did not know about the directive of the President to stop the long firearms acquisition or the investigation conducted by Robredo. He noted that it was Robredo who had informed the BAC about the higher price, prompting the BAC to stop the procurement of 1,800 assault rifles.
Sarmiento said the procurement of 1,800 assault rifles under the Capability Enhancement Program (CEP) for 2011 was suspended after the only bidder – R. Espineli – failed to comply with documentary requirements.
R. Espineli’s bid was P89,000 per piece.
“There was no negotiated contract. For us, whatever happens, we will still conduct bidding in all procurements,” Sarmiento said.
“We would like to appeal to all, don’t treat us as already guilty. Please listen to our side first, before making any conclusion that we are guilty. Details are twisted, it’s hard when we know we are doing our duty with due diligence, honesty and objectivity,” he said.
Probe Glock deal, too
For Rep. Angelo Palmones of the party-list group Agham, the bidding process for pistol procurement should also be investigated because it “was attended by various irregularities.”
“In the interest of transparency, the President can still freeze this transaction and order a review,” he said.
He said he studied and gathered data and documents about the procurement of 59,000 pistols for the PNP as part of his preparation for a resolution calling for an inquiry, which he filed about a month ago with Antipolo Rep. Romeo Acop, a former police officer, as co-author.
He revealed that one irregularity he discovered was that Puno, PNP chief Nicanor Bartolome and the BAC “did not consider testing pistols other than the Glock 9mm offered by Trust Trade and its foreign partner, Glock Asia Pacific.”
“Trust Trade was only the second lowest bidder. The lowest was Espineli, which offered the Israeli-made Jericho. But the group in charge of the bidding disqualified Espineli and declared Trust Trade as the winning bidder. That’s when they tested Glock without testing Jericho and the other bidders’ firearms,” he said.
Palmones said the bidding panel disqualified Espineli for failing to comply with certain documentary requirements.
“But the documents of Trust Trade were also deficient, they were non-compliant with the requirements. And yet, they declared the Glock supplier as the winning bidder,” he said.
He pointed out that another irregularity he noticed was the arrival in the country of a Trust Trade shipment of 28,000 Glock pistols only four days after Puno’s and Bartolome’s bidding committee announced that Trust Trade was the winning bidder.
“The announcement was made last Aug. 31. On Sept. 4, the shipment from the United States arrived. A cargo from the US usually takes about a month to be here in the country. This means that this procurement was a done deal even before the bidding process could be completed,” he said.
“It is not too late to protect the interest of the government and taxpayers in the pistol transaction since PNP chief Bartolome has yet to sign the contract between the PNP and Trust Trade,” he stressed.
Former Isabela Rep. Grace Padaca, a close friend of Robredo, has said in a television interview that the late DILG chief was able to bring down the cost of the pistols from P27,000 to P16,900.
That means that Robredo saved P10,100 apiece or nearly P600 million for 59,000 pistols.
As for Puno, Palmones said the controversial official should spare Aquino from further embarrassment by quitting and not accepting any other government job.
De Lima’s initiative
Meanwhile, Lacierda clarified that it was Justice Secretary Leila de Lima who had informed the President of the need to secure the offices of Robredo.
“I spoke to Secretary Leila de Lima if she entered also the office and she said yes, she also did but she did it on her own initiative because of her concern also for the sensitive nature of the office of Secretary Robredo,” Lacierda said.
“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. Remember, there are confidential investigations that were there. So, as far as I know – and I spoke to Leila – it was her own initiative,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda said De Lima went to Robredo’s offices and condominium unit after Puno did.
There have been conflicting statements on the matter. Earlier, it was reported that De Lima was the one officially tasked to secure Robredo’s documents – with Robredo’s wife Leni’s permission – after the latter was told that some men were trying to enter their condominium unit in Quezon City.
Later, the President said he was the one who ordered Puno to secure the documents.
“The truth of the incident is that, number one, he ordered Undersecretary Puno to secure the offices of Secretary Robredo. But he did not give instructions to secure the condominium unit. There were no such instructions… It was already out. The documents are in place… To my knowledge, the instruction was to secure. So nobody should touch the documents – that is my understanding,” Lacierda said.
But asked whether the Palace saw any irregularity in the attempt of Puno to enter the condominium unit, Lacierda said: “Well, I don’t know… We don’t know why Undersecretary Puno did that. But, as far as we know, the instruction was to secure the offices of Secretary Robredo,” he said.
He also stressed that Aquino’s friends were not being protected as perceived by some quarters.
“We can give you an assurance that that is not happening,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda said Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras and Bureau of Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares had their own share of criticism.
“Secretary Rene Almendras is a good friend and he is actually being pilloried for resolving the energy situation in Mindanao. So who are the other friends? Kim Henares is doing also a good job… Like I said, the President is fair in all his dealings with his official Cabinet,” he said.
Lacierda also said the jueteng issue was being dealt with by Robredo, contrary to intrigues being peddled that the administration was not keen on stopping it.
Asked if Puno had become a liability to the administration, Lacierda said “I cannot comment on whether he’s a liability or not.”
“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,” Lacierda said. With Jess Diaz, Cecille Suerte Felipe