Puno quits, speaks up on Robredo issue

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - Rico Puno has resigned as undersecretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

Puno made the announcement in a two-page statement he issued to Palace reporters on Tuesday, September 11. It came a day after a Senate committee decided to hold an investigation on him. The Senate probe is scheduled on Friday, September 14. (The Senate probe is pushing through despite his resignation.)

"Moving forward I have resigned as DILG undersecretary to support the President's decision to give the incoming [DILG] secretary a freehand in forming a new team," Puno said in the statement. President Benigno Aquino III immediately accepted his resignation, the Palace said.

Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Puno submitted his resignation letter to Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr on Friday, September 7, after the President left for Vladivostok, Russia for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders' meeting.

Lacierda said the President and Puno met last Monday, September 10.

In his statement, Puno, a close friend of the President, also narrated a chronology of events that led to his decision to secure the offices and apartment of the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo. His attempted entry into Robredo's apartment in Quezon City on August 19, a day after Robredo's plane crashed, raised questions on his possible motives since the latter was reportedly investigating him before he died.

Three days after the story broke, President Aquino said it was he who had ordered Puno, on the day of the crash, August 18, to secure Robredo's offices, but not his apartment.

In his statement, Puno said it was a police officer, Supt Oliver Tanseco, who told him that there were documents in Robredo's apartment, thus his decision to also secure it. They were refused entry by Robredo's househelp, although this detail is not contained in Puno's chronology issued Tuesday, September 11.

His chronology does not explain why Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and the Presidential Security Group went later to the same Robredo offices which he and his PNP had already secured.

De Lima earlier said that it was Robredo's widow, Leni, who had asked for her assistance to secure Robredo's office and apartment. Leni relayed the request after Puno's group's attempted entry into their apartment on August 19.

The President, on the other hand, has said it was De Lima who reminded him on August 18 to secure Robredo's documents, thus his order to Puno on the same day.

Below is Puno's chronology of events:

Saturday, Aug 18, 2012:

At 8.45 pm, Puno said he boarded a Cebu Pacific flight to Manila. "When I was about to board the President called and instructed me to secure the offices of Secretary Robredo. I relayed the instructions to Supt Oliver Tanseco, deputy chief of the Office of Internal Security in Secretary Robredo's office."

At 10.30 pm, Puno said he arrived in Manila.

At 11.30 pm, Puno said he proceeded to the quarters of the Philippine National Police chief, Director General Nicanor Bartolome, in Camp Crame. The quarters is referred to as the "White House." Present in the meeting in Bartolome's quarters were Bartolome, Tanseco, DILG Undersecretary Austere Panadero, Joan dela Cruz, who is one of the assistants of Robredo.

During the meeting, "the President called again and I reported the offices have been secured," Puno said.

Sunday, Aug 19, 2012:

At 9 am, Puno said he "supervised [the] sealing of Secretary Robredo's Office at DILG Quezon City accompanied by the following: Senior Supt Joel Pagdilao, Tanseco, Chief Inspector Apollo Togonon and other security officers of Sec Robredo."

At 9:30 am, Puno said he was "informed by Supt Tanseco that there were documents inside the residence/condominium of the Secretary."

At 10 am, Puno said he "led a team to secure Secretary Robredo's condominium unit, stayed in the condominium lobby, instructed team to sign condominium log book to document our presence, left condomonium after about 20 minutes."

At 1030 am, Puno said he "arrived at Camp Crame and supervised sealing of Secretary Robredo's office, left Camp Crame after about 15 minutes."

At 1130 am, Puno said he "arrived at [the] National Police Commission building in Makati City; supervised [the] sealing of Secretary Robredo's office; left after about 20 minutes."

At 3 pm, Puno said he "accompanied Secretary of Justice [Leila de Lima] and a Presidential Security Group team that performed inspection, sealing and securing of Secretary Robredo's a.) Secretary Robredo's office; b.) condominium unit; c.) Camp Crame office; and d.) Napolcom office. Entire operations completed at around 7 pm.

'Biggest bang for the buck'

Puno's statement is his first since he was dragged into the controversy. He said he has "introduced reforms to ensure full transparency of procurement and bidding processes" in the PNP. "We have streamlined these processes to achieve the President's objective of getting 'the biggest bang for the buck' in providing basic equipment [to enable] our uniformed personnel to perform their tasks effectively."

Puno added, "I believe that I have carried out my assigned duties to the best of my ability."

Lacierda said Puno's resignation "clears the air" and debunks allegations about the President's "KKK," referring to the latter's kabarilan, kaklase, kaibigan (shooting buddies, classmates, friends). "So this is a development that certainly would put to rest all these accusations of the fact that Undersecretary Puno is close to the President and he’s being coddled... that’s not true," Lacierda added.

A former gun-and-ammunition supplier, Puno is embroiled in the scuttled P408-M firearms deal of the PNP.

The PNP declared a failure of bidding last August 31 for the procurement of 1,500 units of M4 assault rifles worth P178 million.

The winning bidder, R. Espineli Trading, reportedly failed to meet documentary requirements particularly receipts of authentication and certification from the insurance commission. And because there was no
other bidder, the bidding was declared a failure and the procurement temporarily stopped.

Another batch of 1,800 units of M4 rifles worth P230 million was suspended after it was discovered that there was a lower price available in the market.

Trip to Israel

Reports said that Robredo was conducting an investigation on alleged anomalous procurement deals in the PNP involving Puno.

An ABS-CBN report said that Puno, along with 3 other officials, went to Israel with the head of R. Espineli, the sole bidder in the gun deal. After that, only R. Espineli entered and won the assault rifle
deal, the report added.

PNP officials confirmed that the procurement for M4 rifles was suspended because Robredo said it was overpriced. It was later on disclosed by President Aquino that he was the one who discovered it was overpriced.

According to Aquino, he searched Google and found that there were rifles being sold below $1,000 or about P32,000.

Palace sources told Rappler Aquino discussed this with Puno, prompting a mutual decision for the latter to resign -- even before Robredo died. As early as then, Aquino had sent feelers to Bartolome to replace Puno, according to sources in Camp Crame. - Rappler.com