Robredo aide: ‘People of Naga are angry’

Natashya Gutierrez

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(UPDATED) The late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo's confidante talks about 'jueteng' and how this became an issue between Robredo and outgoing Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno

ROBREDO'S PEOPLE. One of the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo's closest friends, Jun Lavadia, says the people of Naga are angry about recent reports relating to their former Mayor's death. August 20, 2012. (FILE PHOTO)

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – In Naga City, home of the late Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo, people are angry. They feel unsettled.

Reports on Interior Undersecretary Rico E. Puno’s attempt to search Robredo’s house for documents when Robredo was still missing have hit a nerve among Nagueños. President Benigno Aquino III said Puno was simply implementing his orders to secure Robredo’s documents but in the minds of many Naga residents, something is off.

This was revealed to Rappler on Sunday, September 9, by Jun Lavadia, a longtime friend of the Robredos and who was the family’s spokesperson when Robredo was still missing. He himself admitted to feeling bothered.

Lavadia said he found the reported visit of Puno to Robredo’s condominium and office on August 19 — the morning after Robredo’s plane crashed off the waters of Masbate — suspicious. He questioned Aquino’s statement and the timing of his “orders” so soon after the crash.

Kung sinasabi niya [Puno’s camp] na it was the order of the President, bakit sigurado na ba sila na patay na [si Robredo] nun?,” he said. “Sinecure na nila yun, [kahit] search and rescue operations palang (If they’re saying they were following President’s orders, why? Were they sure Robredo was already dead then? They secured the documents even when the search and rescue operations were still ongoing).”

Robredo’s body was found on Tuesday, August 21, three days after his plane crashed. (Read: Events contradict Aquino claim on Puno.)

During his time as Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary, Robredo shared power with Puno, who supervised the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP).

A former gun supplier, Puno is a close friend of President Aquino and enjoys his trust.

On the other hand, it took a while for Robredo to gain the President’s full confidence. Robredo was among the last to be named to Aquino’s Cabinet, appointed only on July 9, 2010 and even then, only in an acting capacity. Puno was appointed to the DILG 5 days ahead, on July 2, 2010.

‘Jueteng’ questions

Lavadia, a close confidante of Robredo when he was alive, told Rappler that he was with Robredo for 3 months when he first took the post of DILG Secretary in July 2010.

He recalled that within the first month of Robredo taking his new position, questions about “jueteng,” an illegal numbers game, surfaced — a problem that Robredo right away discussed with Puno. The DILG at the time was rumored to be receiving money from “jueteng” lords.

The issue is a sensitive one. It brought down one Philippine president, Joseph Estrada, whose former friend, ex-Ilocos Sur Gov Luis “Chavit” Singson, exposed in 2000 that Estrada had been receiving payoffs from “jueteng” lords.

Lavadia said: “First week of August, wala pang one month, [Robredo] and Usec [Puno] was being dragged into jueteng.” He added: “After that, lumalabas na ‘nun, sinulatan ni Sec Jesse si Puno to do something about it because nada-drag na ang DILG (It hadn’t been a month when Robredo and Puno were being dragged into jueteng. When that came out, Sec Jesse wrote Puno a letter, asking him to do something because DILG’s name was getting dragged into it).”

Lavadia added that Robredo gave a copy of the letter to Transportation and Communications Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas, Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad, and Presidential Management Staff Secretary Julia Abad. Like Robredo, Roxas and Butch Abad are key leaders of the ruling Liberal Party. (Roxas has been named as Robredo’s replacement in the DILG.)

According to Lavadia, the controversy continued and within a couple of weeks, Robredo sent another letter to Puno, again looping in the 3 Cabinet members.

“Robredo wrote again to Usec Puno, ‘Our name is being dragged. You should do something about it,’” Lavadia recalled Robredo as telling Puno in the letter.

Lavadia explained that Robredo had chosen to send copies to the Cabinet Secretaries — who are all close to the President — instead of telling him right away, as he had hoped to settle the issue before raising it to Aquino directly. He said there was “clamor” for a probe but admitted he did not know if an investigation indeed happened.

Sought for comment, Abad told Rappler he doesn’t recall receiving such letters from Robredo. But he clarified in an SMS message to Rappler that it’s “possible” he may have been furnished a copy of the letter. “I normally get cc’d with these types of reports but these not being my jurisdiction, I just refer them to the appropriate agency/persons.”

Lavadia added that he and Robredo had been offered “jueteng” money before, but have always refused to accept it.

Hindi ko naman sinasabi, [that it’s Puno]…[Basta] hindi kami kumukuha (I’m not saying it’s Puno… But for our part, we haven’t gotten anything),” he said.

Plans to replace Puno

Right before Robredo took his oath as DILG secretary in Malacañang on July 12, 2010, Lavadia told Rappler that Robredo and Puno had a long meeting at Puno’s residence to discuss the department.

Lavadia said he was not privy to the conversation between the two but that Robredo later indicated to him that he was slightly “discouraged” that Puno, who was already sitting as DILG undersecretary, had widespread control over the PNP, BFP and BJMP.

But it appears that Aquino has had plans of replacing Puno early on.

Aside from reports that Puno was on his way out of the department even before Robredo’s death, Lavadia shared that last year, Aquino once asked Robredo if he had found a replacement for Puno.

 “There was a time na sabi ng Presidente, [kay] Sec Jesse, ganito: ‘Meron ka na bang nakuhang mapagapapalit ki Usec Puno? (There was a time when the President told Sec Jesse, ‘Have you found a replacement for Usec Puno?),” Lavadia said.

But Robredo, who Lavadia described as not one to speak ill of those he worked with, had apparently told Aquino that he had a good working relationship with Puno. Lavadia said Robredo’s talk with the President made Robredo happy.

Natuwa nga rin siya, [kasi] yung confidence ng Presidente binibigay sa kanya (He was happy, because he had the President’s confidence),” he said.

Lavadia added that Robredo admired Aquino and believed in what he was trying to do for the nation.

“’Meron na [tayong] taong matino, Jun,’ ang lagi niyang sinasabi (‘We have someone upright, Jun,’ is what he’d always tell me),” Lavadia recalled, echoing statements Robredo’s wife Leni made at her husband’s wake that while Robredo had ‘frustrations,’ he admired the President and was hopeful.

On Sunday, September 9, Aquino confirmed that Puno will be replaced as undersecretary of the DILG, most likely by PNP Director General Nicanor Bartolome. Aquino said he will ask Puno if he will be interested in another government post. –

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Natashya Gutierrez

Natashya is President of Rappler. Among the pioneers of Rappler, she is an award-winning multimedia journalist and was also former editor-in-chief of Vice News Asia-Pacific. Gutierrez was named one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders for 2023.