Is Puno in or out? Ochoa, Roxas disagree

MANILA, Philippines – Where is Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno really headed?

Executive Secretary Paquito “Jojo” Ochoa Jr said he is not aware of any plans of President Benigno Aquino III to take Puno out of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

Last week, incoming DILG Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II said Aquino is moving Puno out of the DILG. Ochoa, however, told reporters on Monday, September 3, that Puno still remains in the department. 

Wala kaming alam na ganoon,” Ochoa told reporters in an ambush interview in Camp Crame. “Basta siya pa rin ang undersecretary ng DILG.” (We don’t know anything about that. He is still a DILG undersecretary.) 

Ochoa was designated DILG officer in charge after the death of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo in a plane crash last August 18. Roxas, on the other hand, has yet to formally assume his new position pending confirmation by the Commission on Appointments.

Reporters also asked Ochoa to comment on Roxas’ statement that Aquino gave him a free hand to choose his people.

“Well, I am not the best person to ask but he mentioned that probably and it’s ordinary, it’s the ordinary course of business of course that a leader of an agency will be given a free hand by the President if he wants to bring in a team,” Ochoa said in Filipino.

Ochoa’s statement was in reaction to an interview Roxas gave to Malacañang reporters last Friday.

Roxas said, “[The President] gave me a free mandate to choose my team. I would expect that all of those co-terminus [positions] would be vacated by the time I come in. According to the President, he has another assignment in mind for Usec Puno.”

Roxas and Ochoa are identified with the warring factions in the Cabinet. As president of the Liberal Party, Roxas is identified with the LP bloc. Ochoa, on the other hand, is identified with the so-called "Samar" faction in the Aquino administration.

Puno to DA?

Puno is the DILG undersecretary for peace and order. He is a close friend and shooting buddy of Aquino.

After the August 2010 Manila hostage crisis, 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.

Puno has also been accused of involvement in the illegal numbers game jueteng, a charge he denied.

The Palace has yet to announce a new position for Puno but reports said he might be moved to the Department of Agriculture.

Aquino announced Roxas’ appointment last week. Cavite Rep Joseph Emilio “Jun” Abaya is taking over Roxas' post at the Department of Transportation and Communications. –