MANILA, Philippines – Was he acting on the President’s orders or was it a raid?
When news broke on Thursday, September 6, that Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno tried to search the condominium and offices of his boss — the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo — while he was still missing a day after his plane crashed, eyebrows raised at what many considered a suspicious move on Puno’s part.
On Sunday, September 9, three days after ABS-CBN’s exposé on Puno’s attempted raid of Robredo’s apartment, President Benigno Aquino III finally broke his silence. He told reporters travelling with him in Vladivostok, Russia, for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting, that he had ordered Puno to secure Robredo’s documents.
The President said it was he who had received a call from De Lima, reminding him to secure Robredo’s documents as early as Saturday night, August 18, the night of the crash.
“Sometime in the early evening [of the crash], [Justice] Secretary Leila de Lima called and pinaalala niya (she reminded me of) the need to secure Secretary Robredo’s documents because at that time he was doing a lot of investigations,” the President said.
August 19: Leni’s request
But previous statements by De Lima, other Cabinet officials, and members of the Robredo family indicate that the request to secure Robredo’s documents had come from Robredo’s wife, Leni, and was made precisely because of Puno’s attempted entry into their unit in Quezon City on Sunday, August 19.
There has been no mention of a request made on the night of the crash, August 18, when the government was still scrambling to mount a rescue operation for Robredo and his family was still coming to grips with the accident.
Reports showed that Puno and 3 police officers visited Robredo’s condominium in Quezon City at around 10:30 am Sunday, August 19, and that on the same day, Puno also attempted to enter Robredo’s offices in the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and in the National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM) headquarters in Quezon City.
When Robredo’s wife, Leni, first faced the media in Naga on Thursday, August 23 during her husband’s wake, she said she had personally requested that the late Secretary’s documents be secured.
Robredo family spokesperson Jun Lavadia told Rappler that he believes Leni’s request was triggered by a call she received from their Quezon City househelp about the attempted entry of Puno’s group. Lavadia, who was with Mrs Robredo when she took the call, recalled it taking place Sunday evening, August 19, the day after the crash and also the day of Puno’s attempted entry. At that point, Leni was unaware that Puno was part of the group that tried — but failed — to enter their Quezon City home.
After the call, Leni said she requested Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, who was with her at that time, to secure her husband’s documents in their condominium. Leni said Soliman took care of it from there.
Aug 20: De Lima’s move
The following day, Monday, August 20, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima was in the condominium unit to execute Leni’s request according to a report on the Philippine Daily Inquirer. She told reporters on Wednesday, August 22, that she had been there for two days since Monday, upon the request of Leni to secure her husband’s documents.
De Lima explained to the media that she was asked to be the one to secure the documents of Robredo because she knew where his condominium was and because Robredo’s other staff were in Naga at that time.
Yet, the President said it was De Lima who “reminded” him of the need to secure Robredo’s documents as early as the night of the crash, August 18, thus his order to Puno, who went to Robredo’s office and apartment the following morning.
(UPDATE: De Lima on Monday, September 10 confirmed reminding Aquino to secure Robredo’s documents)
Mr Aquino however stressed that his order to Puno was merely for him to secure Robredo’s office, not his apartment.
Asked why Puno had to go to Robredo’s apartment, the President told reporters: “Well, he probably thought there were also some documents there that needed to be secured.”
Cop says order covered residence, office
The President’s statement further contradicted the published testimony of Police Supt Oliver Tanseco who was with Puno when they went to Robredo’s condominium.
Tanseco, who denied their visit was a raid, said they were merely following a presidential order to ensure nothing was taken from Robredo’s office and residence. As far as Tanseco is concerned, the President’s order covered both Robredo’s office and residence.
As Undersecretary for police operations, Puno supervises the Philippine National Police, the Bureau of Fire Protection, and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology. A longtime friend of Aquino, Puno is a former gun and ammunition supplier. He wields strong influence in Camp Crame, holds office there, and had crossed swords with Robredo over control and supervision of the police.
Camp Crame sources told Rappler that various complaints against Puno reached the President even before Robredo died. That was when the Palace started sending feelers to Philippine National Police Director General Nicanor Bartolome to retire early and replace Puno.
On Sunday, Aquino announced that Puno would be taken out of his post as DILG undersecretary and confirmed that he is likely to be replaced by Bartolome, whose scheduled retirement is March 16, 2013 yet. – Rappler.com
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