Palace 'sabotage' in Puno probe - Miriam

MANILA, Philippines - Will the Senate hearing on resigned Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno on Friday, September 14 push through?

With none of the 11 senators of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments, Revision of Codes and Laws confirming attendance, Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago, who chairs the committee and called for the probe, expressed her frustrations in a statement Thursday, September 13 that the investigation might be "sabotaged." She added that even Puno has yet to confirm he is coming.

Santiago said the senators, who have not said they are coming or have told her staff they will be out of town, have likely been ordered by Malacañang to skip the hearing.

"If it happens (that the hearing will be canceled), such a deliberate boycott will indicate that even my fellow senators who are members of my committee do not support my initiative. I will certainly raise a protest, but I’m thinking at the moment of what form my protest will take,” Santiago said.

The Palace has refused to comment on Santiago's statements. Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte told Rappler in a text message Thursday night, "At this point, we don't know if the senators are really not attending the hearing."

The 11 members of the committee are Senators Franklin Drilon, Panfilo Lacson, Manuel "Lito" Lapid, Antonio Trillanes IV, Manny Villar, Francis Pangilinan, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel, Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada, Vicente Sotto III, and Alan Peter Cayetano.

Santiago called for a hearing on, among others, Puno's attempt to retrieve documents from the condominium unit and offices of the late Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo on Friday, August 18.

Puno, who resigned on September 11, went to Robredo's condo unit in Quezon City and to the National Police Commission (Napolcom) and DILG offices on August 19, a day after Robredo's plane crashed in Masbate City allegedly to secure documents even when search and rescue operations were still ongoing for the late Secretary. Puno's group was not allowed entry in Robredo's condominium unit. 

President Benigno Aquino III later admitted he ordered Puno to secure Robredo's documents but said he did not tell him to go to Robredo's residence. Robredo's documents later revealed an ongoing investigation on anomalous gun procurements that mentioned Puno's name.

Puno is a close friend of the President.

'Craven coward'

Santiago added that if Puno fails to show up at the hearing, it proves that he is guilty of the charges. 

"It will show that he is a craven coward, that all charges against him are probably true, and that he is thumbing his nose at the Filipino public," she said.

Santiago said that Puno may invoke his right against self-incrimination if he does not want to answer questions, but that it is not an excuse in itself to not attend the probe. Santiago said the committee may also decided to subpoena Puno, which Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile will need to approve.

"If the Senate President refuses to sign he subpoena, in effect he will disapprove the committee recommendation, which is not normal," she said.

Enrile has questioned whether the probe is beyond the Senate's mandate.

Confirmed attendance

Of the guests invited, 10 have confirmed attendance including Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, Napolcom Vice Chair and Executive Officer Eduardo U. Escueta, Archbishop Oscar V. Cruz, PNP Chief Director General Nicanor Bartolome, and Deputy Director General Emelito Sarmiento.

The cops who were reportedly with Puno when he went to Robredo's condominium have also said they would be attending the hearing, namely Senior Supt Oliver Tanseco and Senior Supt Joel Pagdilao.

Jocelyn Jose of Trust Trade and Glock Asia Pacific, DILG Special Assistant Isoceles P. Otero, Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force Head Major General Renato Miranda, and PNP Bids and Awards Committee Chair Reynaldo C. Espineli have also confirmed their attendance. 

Guests invited are alleged to have knowledge on Puno's visit to Robredo's offices and residence, or on accusations and ongoing investigations against Puno.

De Lima won't come

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who was also invited, said that she is skipping the hearing. It was De Lima who was able to secure Robredo's condominium. She said it was Robredo's head executive assistant, Dominina Rances, who on August 18 had asked her to secure the documents.

PRESIDENT'S CALL. De Lima said the president has to give his permission first if she can allow the Puno probe at the Senate hearing or not.

PRESIDENT'S CALL. De Lima said the president has to give his permission first if she can allow the Puno probe at the Senate hearing or not.

In a text message to reporters, she said she received "no authority yet from the President to appear" and that she has meetings at the Palace tomorrow morning when the probe is scheduled to take place.

De Lima also told reporters earlier that she found the scope of the hearing "vague" and that the objective of the hearing is not that clear.

"Based on the notice, it's to evaluate Usec Puno, so it's vague. Then we are being asked to deliver an opening statement," De Lima added. "What is the exact objective?" 

Too much 'brouhaha?'

De Lima said she does not understand why is there so much "brouhaha" over whom the President asked to secure the documents or not. "It is the prerogative of the President to direct anyone - kahit si Usec Puno, kahit ako or anyone else, basta subordinate niya, anong masama doon? (It is the prerogative of the President to direct anyone - may it be Usec. Puno, me or anyone else, as long as it his subordinate. What's wrong with that?)"

Leni Robredo, the wife of the late Secretary, has also said she will not be attending the Senate hearing. Her husband's head executive assistant Lawyer Domnina Rances wrote to Santiago on Tuesday, September 11, saying Mrs Robredo sends her regrets.

"As Your Honor may know, Atty Gerona-Robredo is staying in Naga City with her youngest child," said Rances.

"Even as she grieves for the passing of Secretary Jesse M Robredo, her hands are currently full in ensuring that her children are coping with the unfortunate event and she is afraid that such a very public event concerning her husband's work might cause too much pain and stress for her family." - with reports from Purple Romero/