Monday, September 10, 2012

Puno out of DILG


Vladivostok – Rico Puno still enjoys the trust and confidence of President Aquino, but the controversial undersecretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) will be replaced by Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Nicanor Bartolome.

This was announced here Saturday night by President Aquino amid allegations of wrongdoing against his long-time friend and shooting buddy.

Aquino also disclosed that he had ordered an arms deal for the PNP stopped, but the DILG still pushed through with it. He said that upon his orders, the late DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo launched an investigation – but of the arms deal, and not of the officials involved.

Aquino said he would ask Puno if he wanted another position in government.

“Of course, there is the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise,” Aquino told Manila-based reporters over coffee late Saturday after the retreat of the world leaders who attended the 20th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit here.

Aquino revealed he wanted Bartolome to step down six months ahead of his mandatory retirement in March 2013 and replace Puno to allow a smooth transition of operations at the DILG in the conduct of elections next year.

If Bartolome retires in March as scheduled, the election ban prevents the President from appointing a replacement during the election period. Aquino said he wanted to ensure that the DILG and PNP would make the elections peaceful, orderly and produce credible results.

“He (Bartolome) might replace Undersecretary Puno,” Aquino said. “I asked Director General Bartolome also to consider resigning 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.”

Aquino lamented that Puno – a friend of almost three decades – had been denounced for his role in the August 2010 Luneta hostage crisis that resulted in the death of eight Hong Kong tourists.

“At the hostage crisis, he was pilloried and I assumed full responsibility for that. I should have perhaps not trusted certain people that will give an order implicitly. And we’ve corrected that situation. We actually have a new crisis manual in place,” he said.

The gun deal, not Puno

Aquino clarified reports that it was Puno, who reports directly to him because his jurisdiction covers the PNP, who was being investigated by Robredo regarding anomalies in the procurement of firearms.

Aquino said the investigation was focused on the arms deal, and not yet on the officials involved in the case.

He said he himself discovered over the Internet that the firearms could not be as expensive as the bidders had offered.

The main concern of Aquino – a gun enthusiast himself – was why the bidding still pushed through even if he had ordered it stopped due to several questionable actions, which he said seemed to have been overlooked out of neglect.

He said the process should not have reached the “post-evaluation” stage.

Aquino revealed he instructed Robredo to dig deeper. “I wanted to know exactly why… It’s just a simple question of why didn’t they bother to check out (the price of the guns) on the Internet?”

“So that was something that Secretary Robredo was also checking up on. So basically, I didn’t like what they said, it’s as if they answered my question by posing another question. So I ordered the (bidding) process stopped,” he said.

Aquino said he never got a copy of any report, which was the reason why he ordered a lockdown of Robredo’s offices, particularly after Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman reminded him of the sensitivity of the documents.

“Number one, I haven’t seen those folders. Secretary Robredo had yet to see me on the report. I need to see an investigation regardless of the topic,” he said.

‘Miracle figure in democracy’

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, for her part, wanted Puno investigated for having so much power and supervision under the setup with Robredo.

Santiago noted Robredo took jurisdiction on issues concerning local government while Puno was given supervision and control over the PNP, among other agencies.

Santiago said she is wondering why Puno was given so much power in the DILG.

She also questioned Puno’s academic and professional background. “What was Puno known for? He is fond of target shooting… what is his record of academic excellence, how about his professional excellence?” Santiago asked.

Santiago further described Puno as a “miracle figure in the democracy.”

Santiago vowed to unmask the backer of Puno, noting that he still enjoys the trust and confidence of President Aquino amid the controversy surrounding his appointment to the DILG.

“The backer should back off. If (the backer) will go after me, I will not hesitate to name (the backer) before the Senate where I have parliamentary immunity,” Santiago said. “As I say, all of these go back to the backer of Mr. Puno.”

Asked further to identify Puno’s backer, Santiago said: “It’s for you to guess and for me to know. I might be charged for libel, and I am not in the Senate.”

Santiago said she is not questioning or even blaming President Aquino over the fiasco, but Puno’s supposed backer.

When informed that Aquino might relieve Puno from his DILG post, Santiago said she welcomes the President’s move.

This only indicates that the “President is absolutely sensitive to the political climate here even if he is in Russia,” Santiago said in a radio interview.

On the situation at the DILG, Secretary-designate Mar Roxas cannot take over and formally leave the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) until the Commission on Appointments (CA) confirms his appointment.

Puno and the other DILG officials have to stay in the DILG to ensure continuity of its operations.

Aquino said Roxas was given a free hand in the DILG, although Bartolome will have to assume the duties and responsibilities of Puno, whose jurisdiction covers the PNP, Bureau of Fire Protection and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP).

The next PNP chief

Aquino did not mention who might succeed Bartolome as the next PNP chief.

There were talks, however, that Chief Superintendent Allan Purisima, the former director of the PNP’s National Capital Regional Police Office (NCRPO) and said to be a nephew of Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, will be the next PNP chief.

“It’s a done deal. Since President Aquino assumed the top post of the land, he made no secret of his desire for Purisima to head the PNP,” a police official told The STAR.

Another police official, however, revealed a group identified with Vice President Jejomar Binay is lobbying for the appointment of Deputy Director General Emil Sarmiento as the next PNP chief.

“General Sarmiento is using his APO (Alpha Phi Omega fraternity) connections and a relative of President Aquino to garner the top PNP post. But he has a slim chance against Purisima,” the source said.

Sarmiento was promoted last week as the new deputy director for administration, the No. 2 man of the PNP after the early retirement of Deputy Director General Arturo Cacdac.

Bartolome could not be reached for comment, but Purisima said he was not aware of reports about Bartolome’s early retirement, saying he was “in the mountains.”

“You’re the first to break the news to me about the chief PNP’s early retirement,” Purisima told The STAR.

Purisima said he is honored to be mentioned as among the contenders for the next PNP chief, but clarified he has not talked with the President about the issue.

“I’m not privy to the plans of President Aquino for me,” he said.

PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Generoso Cerbo Jr. said he has not heard any information about Bartolome replacing Puno.

Other ranking PNP officials also said they have not heard any information about the President’s instruction to Bartolome to bow out of the service ahead of his retirement on March 16.


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