Puno denies transfer to Customs bureau-A A +A
Saturday, September 15, 2012
MANILA -- Former Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno dismissed an anonymous letter stating that he will be assigned by President Benigno Aquino III to the Bureau of Customs (BOC).
Facing senators at a hearing on Friday, Puno said the information that reached Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago was "not true."
Previous reports said that Puno, who quit his job on Tuesday, may be given a post at the Department of Agriculture but Malacañang denied this.
Puno also denied spreading bad stories about Santiago and her husband Narciso Santiago, who once worked for the BOC and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) as undersecretary.
"He has been telling incredible tales about you, your husband's gambling habits, and your alleged anomalous projects and dealings in your husband’s province," the letter from firstname.lastname@example.org stated.
If appointed to the BOC, the anonymous sender said Puno will "do everything" to destroy Santiago's cousin Deputy Commissioner for Enforcement Group Horacio Suansing Jr., who is reportedly on the way out by December this year.
Puno confirmed that he has relatives in government as stated in the letter but he brushed off claims that he used his influence to secure their appointments.
They are Puno's brother, Patrick, who was named vice president for finance and procurement of the Philippine Amusement and Games Corporation in 2010 but later resigned, while his daughter, Romina, is connected with the Bureau of Immigration.
Puno's maternal cousin Adolfo Escalona is executive director of the Road Board, an attached agency of the Department of Transportation and Communications, while his niece, Maria Angela Ignacio, is a commissioner at the Governance Commission for Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations.
Also, his nephew Marco Puno Santiago is currently an assistant secretary at the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office in Malacañang.
Also on Friday, Puno told senators that he never received windfall from the illegal numbers game jueteng.
He also denied reports that he carted documents last month from the condominium unit of his late boss, Secretary Jesse Robredo, who died in a plane crash in Masbate last August 18.
Puno said the allegations are the handiwork of people who wanted to put him down. He said those who have accused him of getting protection money from jueteng operators failed to substantiate their claims and file the necessary cases.
"My accusers relied on lies and baseless accusations. They depended on saying a lie if repeated many times will become the truth," he said in a hearing of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments, revision of codes and laws.
On the issue that he went to the Robredo’s condominium even without the clearance from President Benigno Aquino III, Puno said prudence dictated him to do so upon learning from Senior Superintendent Oliver Tanseco, deputy chief of the Office of Internal Security in Secretary Robredo's office, that there were files inside the unit.
Aside from Robredo's unit, Puno and some of his staff and policemen went to the DILG and the National Police Commission to lock down Robredo’s offices on August 19.
Robredo, who figured in a fatal plane crash off Masbate, was still missing when Puno carried out the President's order.
Puno was denied entry, yet it has raised suspicions that he visited the unit to obtain files that may implicate him in the alleged anomalous bidding of assault rifles.
During the hearing, Puno also rejected speculations that he had full control of the Philippine National Police (PNP), which originally belonged to the DILG secretary. He said the operational control of the 148,000-strong policemen is with the PNP chief.
Puno though admitted of giving his take on the P1.2-billion firearms deal, which was later suspended by Aquino because of suspicion of overpricing.
He said he met with representatives of prospective suppliers but denied he was interfering with the process, a statement which failed to convince Santiago.
"If we give some advice as senators, we are not even followed but it seems you're really powerful because as Undersecretary, they listened to you," Santiago told Puno.
Puno said he sat as a mere observer of the PNP Bids and Awards Committee to ensure the process was transparent and above-board.
Asked about her assessment of Puno's testimony, Santiago said his answers were "at best fudged."
After claiming that he has no direct supervision of the PNP, the senator learned that Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa explained in 2010 that Puno actually was given the authority to do so.
Puno said he was unaware of the Palace directive.
Also, Puno testified that he was never appointed by Robredo as an observer to the bids committee, prompting Santiago to question his participation in the first place.
"As far as I know, an observer is allowed just to attend, not participate in the process. The moment one makes an advice which is completely followed by the BAC, that person is no longer an observer but a participant," she said.
Santiago also could not believe that Puno doesn't have an idea on the extent of the jueteng operation in the country considering his former position as DILG undersecretary for Peace and Order.
"If jueteng still continues, for sure there is someone influential behind this. Who's the backer on the national level? How can a creature flourish without its creator and its protector?" she asked.
Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano and Senator Aquilino Pimentel III are the only members of the committee who showed up for the probe Friday, but Santiago clarified that she was not upset with the apparent snub of her colleagues.
"That's politics. I don't have a political future anymore. Once I'm called by the ICC (International Criminal Court), I'm done here," she said, referring to her upcoming stint as judge at the Netherlands-based tribunal.
The other resource persons present were PNP Chief Director General Nicanor Bartolome, retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz, Senior Superintendent Joel Pagdilao, Jocelyn Jose of Trust Trade, National Police Commission Vice Chairman Eduardo Escueta, and DILG Special Assistant Isoceles Otero. (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)