MANILA, Philippines – When Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno resigned on September 7, he said he did so after having thought about it for weeks.
But in an interview with Rappler’s Maria Ressa, President Benigno Aquino III admitted he asked Puno to resign.
Puno left the DILG after he was put under the spotlight for visiting the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo’s offices and residences to secure the latter’s documents, just hours after Robredo went missing in a plane crash. Public backlash further intensified when it was revealed that Puno’s name was attached to an investigation Robredo was conducting on an anomalous arms procurement.
Aquino has since said that Puno, a close friend and shooting buddy, was securing documents under his orders.
On Wednesday, October 17, Aquino admitted he told Puno it might be best for his family if he were no longer under the public eye.
“I told him… your family might undergo again a lot of the stress because they can’t get at me. They’ll get to me through you – which means a lot of issues again with your mother who’s not young, with your wife, your children, etc. And perhaps you’ve already done enough,” Aquino told Rappler.
The President added that Puno’s mother and his mother, former President Corazon Aquino, are from the same province (Tarlac), and that he is close to the Puno family.
“I volunteered in a sense for all the flak. He might conceivably could’ve also volunteered when he accepted the appointment, but the rest of his siblings, children and the mother who’s a recent widow did no volunteer for any of this BS.”
In interviews after leaving his position, Puno said he had wanted to resign even before the death of Robredo, and had even told him on the day of his death, on August 18, that he was ready to go. Robredo reportedly said “okay.”
Plans to have Puno leave the DILG however, reportedly began even before Robredo died in a plane crash. According to sources, Aquino had wanted Philippine National Police Director General Nicanor Bartolome to replace Puno.
After Robredo’s death, talks that newly-appointed Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas wanted Puno out of the DILG also started to surface, while Puno told reporters he was willing to work alongside Roxas.
By September 4, it became clear that Puno was on his way out once Roxas took over the DILG. Puno eventually submitted his resignation letter on September 7, the day the President left for Vladivostok for the APEC summit. The President accepted the resignation after returning to Manila.
Roxas has yet to name a replacement for Puno.
In the interview, Aquino was quick to defend his friend, emphasizing he did not ask Puno to resign because of corruption issues.
This is consistent with previous statements made by Aquino where he claimed that the investigation led by Robredo was looking into the process of procurements, and not Puno’s participation in an allegedly anomalous deal.
The President also defended Puno in the 2010 Manila Hostage crisis, and said “he performed all the roles [Aquino] asked of him.”
Puno, whose name has also been linked in the past to the illegal numbers game jueteng, was appointed by Aquino to the DILG even before Robredo. Observers raised eyebrows when it was revealed that there was an arrangement to have Puno control the police, instead of Robredo. Robredo was only in charge of the local government component — a first for a DILG chief, who usually has control over both. – Rappler.com
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