Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Without additional and concrete evidence against Interior and Local Governments Undersecretary Rico Puno, I won’t tag him as a protector of jueteng lords. However, the Senate investigation into illegal gambling – and MalacaƱang’s response to the controversy — raises many questions not only on the integrity of Puno, but also on President Benigno Simeon Aquino III’s pledge to be the opposite of his unpopular predecessor.

I’m willing to grant Puno the benefit of the doubt when he denies receiving funds from the lords of jueteng. On other matters, however, he has been far from transparent, and I can understand Senator TJ Guingona’s complaint about the DILG official having a selective memory and penchant for evasive answers.

It is hard to accept Puno’s claim of not remembering the identities of the persons who approached him to cut a deal with the Aquino government – the regular modus of turning a blind eye on jueteng activities.

His amnesia seems fantastic given these details he bared to the Inquirer:

Operators of “jueteng,” an illegal numbers racket, used his friends and even relatives to approach him about payoffs, but Interior Undersecretary Rico E. Puno said he turned them all down.

“Some of them are retired policemen. Some of them are politicians. Some of them are even friends. Some of them are even relatives who approached me,” Puno said. “They were used as conduits.”

Snubbing Robredo

Puno disclosed the offers of payola after retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz said on Saturday that two trusted officials of President Benigno Aquino III in charge of overseeing security matters were accepting at least P2 million a month from jueteng operators.

If he was sharp enough to share these details just a few weeks back, can we blame Guingona for doubting the memory lapse story? What does it say of the DILG executive that he was approached by jueteng emissaries and never even bothered to file a written report?

This sin of omission becomes even more glaring when put in the context of an August 10, 2010 letter by his boss, DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo, asking about persistent reports that he and (just retired) national police chief Jesus Versoza – now vacationing abroad – were on a jueteng payroll.

At the Senate hearing, Puno said he knew upon assumption of office on July 5 that “these things would come up.” His late father, he said, would have advised him not to accept the job because of the controversies surrounding the office. “I would have told him this is the only time as a citizen, this is the only chance we would be able to help our country,” the undersecretary added.

Puno claims his woes were hatched when he decided to reassign members of the 176-strong DILG internal security unit, retaining only 52 officers. “Five days after we removed them, we began to have, to see our names in the tabloids as people who have been collecting,” the undersecretary said. He accused the writers as those “getting some payola during the previous administration.”

In an interview with TV Patrol’s Julius Babao, Robredo said he was bothered by a series of tabloid reports. “Had we been more prompt and more visible in our response, palagay ko hindi kami pagdududahan.” (They would not be doubting us.)

“It’s the sad truth,” Robredo acknowledged. “Kulang talaga ang aming kasagutan dyan.” (We have not given it the proper response.)

The President’s man

Babao talked with Puno, too. He admitted receipt of the letter. He also said he did not give it the time of day, seeing it as part of a plot by detractors.

“Hindi ko pinansin, eh. Dahil hindi naman ako involved, eh. Sigurado naman akong black ops yan. Eh hindi ko sila kailangan kausapin. Malinis ang kunsensya ko. Hindi ko kailangan na habulin pa yan o imbestigahan dahil alam ko na ang kulay nila.” (I didn’t give it my attention since I am not involved. It’s a black operation. I do not need to talk to them. My conscience is clear. I don’t need to hear their side because I know their color.)

This is breathtaking in its illogic and irresponsibility. Critics will always be around. In refusing to even acknowledge a letter and order by his superior, just because he believes it is part of some vague, obscure plot, Puno sounds more like a Cabinet official of the former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo than a very dear friend and trusted aide of the man who told the nation, “Kung walang kurap, walang mahirap!” (Without corruption, there will be no poverty.)

By Puno’s own account, the President once told him, “If we fail, 95 Filipinos will suffer.” Given that President Aquino practically ignored the law by splitting powers at the DILG, giving Puno the run of the Philippine National Police (PNP) – the frontline and weakest link in the fight against illegal gambling –cavalier and insensitive are the least of the adjectives you could use for the undersecretary’s response to Robredo’s directive.

Does Mr. Puno realize what his statements say of Mr. Aquino? Does he even care?

It is even harder to accept Puno’s insistence that there was nothing wrong in his failure to expose these retired cops, politicians, friends and kin who interceded on behalf of the jueteng lords. Last I looked bribery remained a crime in this country. If that incident, as reported by Puno himself, does not count as an attempt at bribery, I don’t know what does.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


First off, I’m not sure the President should be speaking on the hostage crisis since the panel he assigned to probe the tragedy has yet to wrap up its job. The last thing Mr. Aquino wants at this point is fuel public suspicion that he is preempting the possible assignment of blame on his favorite aides.

That’s a valid concern, given the President’s penchant for being vocal about his personal relationships with government officials. He is quick to defend his closest friends or show disdain for people he doesn’t like. My sources say he has shown anger over calls for the resignation of a particular dear friend, which probably explains his effort to accept full responsibility for the Aug. 23 disaster.

There’s another thing that disturbs me: It’s getting to be a habit among the President’s aides to use their Chief Executive as a lightning rod whenever they screw up. This is something that should be laid at the awkward feet of that three-headed monster called the communications group.

If we are charitable and concede that the bloated bureaucracy is not due to IOUs but to real needs, then these errors – tortuous displays of one body being pulled three different ways – are really deplorable because they are preventable. Instead of doing the simple, logical thing – communicating among themselves – we have people racing to plug their spin first and then spending precious time and energy a) correcting, b) undermining, c) or backtracking.

The President is clearly his own best spokesman. But that doesn’t mean he should be used like some mascot trotted out to turn grumblings into praise. At the very least, that strategy could grow old – FAST – especially if actions do not keep pace with the Palace spinning wheel.

Still, since there is no stopping the 1:30 Harapan with ABS-CBN, GMA7 and TV5, I might as well also throw in some questions:

1) Your Excellency, do you really still feel that you need three communications secretaries? (Including Spokesman Edwin Lacierda who, amazingly, is beginning to look as the best of the three com-men).

2) Did you or anyone in the Cabinet turn down DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo’s offer of help on Aug. 23.?If this is a lie, please tell us straight.

3) Considering the Cabinet is like a family, why didn’t anyone consult DFA Secretary Romulo on how to handle a crisis involving foreign nationals? I’d also like to know if Romulo (or any of his aides) volunteered any information or offered to help?

4) How closely will you follow the recommendations of the hostage crisis probe panel?

5) What security concerns made you insist on controlling powers over the police instead of handing these over to the DILG secretary?

6) Do you think it is kosher to have someone who had (and could have again) commercial relations with the PNP oversee the same agency?

7) Your Excellency, why was Mayor Lim’s very important role in the hostage tragedy initially kept under wraps?

8) What are we to do if the NBI actually finds that some of those hostages were felled by friendly fire?

I’m sure others have their own questions.

*ANC is showing Harapan live and there will be live streaming at abs-cbn.com. And I, hehe, will liveblog on Facebook.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Seven hundred signatures in a day is hardly record-breaking stuff at a time when messages go viral within hours. Still, the Facebook supporters of Interior and Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo believe they can 1) persuade President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to submit the Ramon Magsaysay awardee’s name to the Commission on Appointments (CA) and 2) pressure “trapos” into confirming the former mayor of Naga City.

TAO at hindi TRAPO ang magdadala ng tunay na Pagbabago!” (The people, not the traditional politicians are the real harbingers of change), writes Harvey Keh, founder of the volunteer group, Kaya Natin (“We Can” in Filipino). On Facebook and in his column for the tabloid, Abante, Keh blames anti-reform politicians for Robredo’s political woes.

“I’m supporting Sec. Robredo because I believe he is the most qualified and most competent public servant for the position of DILG Secretary,”.Keh said in response to email queries. “He is also an effective, ethical and empowering leader.”

Days after a dismissed cop commandeered a tourist bus and killed eight Hong Kong Chinese visitors, Malacanang confirmed reports that Robredo’s name was not in the list submitted for confirmation by the powerful CA.

Journalist Ellen Tordesillas, chief author of the Vera files report, said the non-inclusion of Robredo predated the Aug. 23 hostage-taking tragedy.

Keh said Robredo always knew he was appointed in an acting capacity. Robredo is also a member ofKeh’s group, together with fellow Ramon Magsaysay awardee for public service and former Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca.

“Yes, we knew from the very moment that he was appointed that it would only be in an acting capacity. So, the hostage crisis had nothing to do with it,” Keh said.

“Out of the loop”

Robredo surprised Filipinos in the aftermath of the hostage crisis by saying the President had given Undersecretary Rico Puno control over the Philippine National Police (PNP). Though Robredo joined Mr. Aquino in a midnight inspection of the bullet-riddled tourist bus at the Quirino Grandstand, he later plaintively described his status as “out of the loop.”

Mr. Aquino explained that he preferred to take personal responsibility for the PNP because of security issues had asked Robredo to take charge of local governments reforms and informal settlers. The fact that Robredo was among the last to be appointed to the Cabinet reinforces fears of the President being cool towards him.

The President confirmed today that he and Robredo has some misunderstanding during the campaign and said he still wants to make sure that they can work well together.

ABS-CBN.com said Mr. Aquino confirmed to MalacaƱang reporters a Vera Files report that he had differences with Robredo during the election campaign. The President said Robredo is undergoing “evaluation,” adding that he wants to make sure he can get along with the DILG secretary.

“There are various reasons kung bakit acting. In the case of Jesse, we had some differences during the campaign as to style. We want to make sure we can really work with each other well. It does no good to get him through the whole process of the CA only at the end of the day to find out that there might be difficulties in our working style, among others, our core philosophy, so we did agree na acting na muna,” ABS-CBN.com quoted Aquino as saying.

“May evaluation period, siguro check ang working style, after two months sigurado na tayo, we still have certain things discussed,” he added. “Dadalawang buwan pa lang kami nagkakasubukan kung talaga nga bang kaya naming mag-mesh.”

Public knowledge of the unorthodox arrangement heightened speculation that a power struggle between two major groups of supporters was hampering effective governance in the Aquino administration.

The struggle is not new. It was noticed even early in Mr. Aquino’s campaign – thus the monikers Balay (referring to the Cubao residence of vice presidential candidate and Liberal Party leader Mar Roxas) and Samar (the Quezon City street that hosts the headquarters of Aquino supporters that backed Vice President Jejomar Binay instead of Roxas.) to represent the feuding groups. The Palace says the issue has been blown out of proportion.

Puno is an old friend of the President, a fellow gun enthusiast. Puno was known as an important finance-group keg in Mr. Aquino’s presidential campaign. Secretary Sonny Coloma, the Samar clique's representative in the President’s Communications Group, said Puno served as “overall ground commander” in Mr. Aquino’s 2007 senatorial run.

Robredo’s deputy also served as the former senator’s consultant in the chamber’s Committee on Public Order and Safety and Dangerous Drugs and the Special Oversight on Economic Affairs body. As president of Far East Ballistics Corp from 1992 to 1995, Puno had ample opportunity to become friendly with the police officer corps. He was also a member of the board of the National Range Officers Institute at Philippine Practical Shooting Association.


Keh said he wants the President to review the division of powers between Robredo and Puno. “I feel that he (Robredo) should be given total control over the PNP,” he said. “This may cause some more trouble in the future especially since it is clearly in the constitution that the PNP will fall under the supervision of the NAPOLCOM whose chairman is the DILG Secretary.”

Keh is no ordinary kibitzer. He has always been an outspoken supporter of Mr. Aquino and an influential blogger during the campaign because he reached out to the masses sidelined by the candidate’s more high-profile backers. Majority of the 600 plus persons who signed the pro-Robredo petition campaigned for Mr. Aquino, believing his personal integrity and principles handed down by his martyred parents trumped a lackluster service record.

Writer and feminist Aida Santos, like most of the public, did not know of Robredo’s status, which she described as “stupid and crazy,” and “so illogical of PNoy (what the President of this nickname-mad nation wants to be called) Santos says Robredo should speak out on the “crazy decision” and explain why he accepted it.

The writer is representative of the vast number of Mr. Aquino’s non-partisan volunteers who “voted with eyes wide open” and take seriously their role as the President’s “Boss.” They have little ties to the Liberal Party or the network of kin, classmates and family friends – or even if they do, act independently of these forces.

US-based Edwin Jamora, the author of the popular Barrio Siete blog, campaigned hard for Mr. Aquino and got plenty of grief from backers of his candidate’s rivals. But he is also quick to criticize blunders of the Aquino administration. He is outraged by the “joke” played on Robredo.

“From day 1, I really believed that he was a good fit with Noynoy’s ‘kung walang kurap, walang mahirap’” philosophy, Jamora said.

“DILG is a powerful position, and I know that the 2016 Election is well underway. Go figure who’s manning the boat! This is way too obvious. They’re using the hostage crisis to clear the path both for the 2016 elections, (fearing) that the transparency and the kind of governance Robredo had shown in Naga, will rob them of their butter,” the blogger added.

Arthur de Guzman, a government employee known on Facebook as “Kuya Toots” suspects the President may be trying “to appease some factions.” De Guzman was among the first signatories to the petition.

Unlike other Robredo supporters, he accepts Mr. Aquino’s wish to have greater control of the PNP. “There’s such a thing as ‘delegation’ of powers. I think PNoy wants a focused and uncompromising stand on corruption in local governance. With such a gargantuan task, I think PNoy doesn’t want his man to be saddled with more than a man could take.”

De Guzman, Santos, Jamora and Keh all believe Robredo’s detractors want to stop reforms, including the DILG chief’s proposal to have all local government units disclose their budgets and expenses in government websites. This was the basis of Naga City’s turnaround during Robredo’s watch and a major factor in the conferment of the RM award.


Journalist-blogger Norman Sison (La Nueva Liga Filipina) brushed off criticism of Mr. Aquino and chided the public and media for having very short memories. If journalists paid more attention to good deeds, people like Robredo –not known for dramatics – would stand a better chance in government, Sison asserted.

“Robredo recently ordered local officials to desist from putting their names on public infrastructure and other expenditures funded by us, the taxpayers. These are efforts, like Noynoy’s wangwang policy, that are meant to put the sovereign Filipino people back in charge. Tayo ang boss, hindi ba? But did we give a damn? The media only gave matter-of-factly attention to it. Minsan hindi ko na alam kung ano ang priority ng media natin.”

In his blog, the acerbic Sison questioned Filipino’s sense of perspective: “People are so hard on Robredo. Are they giving the same outrage over Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who is in charge of keeping our government honest but is currently facing impeachment?” He charged that Robredo’s detractors are using the crisis as “a smokescreen” while waging a rearguard battle for a corrupt status quo.

“They want to keep the sovereign Filipino people in the dark on how they spend the money we pay for taxes. And they want to keep their names, initials, their family names, standards and a coat-of-arms on infrastructure and other projects funded with our tax money.”

Other Aquino supporters told this writer they want to bat for Robredo but in a quiet manner, noting the President’s prickly attitude towards dissenters. Still others chafe that the issue is being used by Mr. Aquino’s enemies.

Robredo has supporters even among those who are not exactly fans of his principal. Paulyn Sicam, former journalist and a member of the peace panel under former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said it was “unfair to Jesse” to be appointed and then have his hands tied on police matters. She also said Puno “does not inspire trust at all.” She expresses pain at seeing Robredo going through the wringer “for something that is clearly not under his jurisdiction.”

“It was big of P Noy to take all the blame because dividing the DILG powers like he did was entirely his fault,” Sicam said

Maria Jovita Zarate met Robredo in 2005 while doing a documentary on good governance and pronounced him and his staff as “bright, competent and unassuming.”

“The guy is a gem. I keep pondering on why he accepted a power sharing mechanism with Puno who now turns out to be a good buddy of PNoy. Perhaps, Robredo thought ‘Well, I would still be able to do something good and innovative in local governance…” Now, we have Pandora’s box… “ Sison warned Aquino believers that silence would benefit groups out to undermine the President. “Who’s going to benefit most if Robredo is out? What are you going to do about it? Get angry but remain silent? No one is going to hear you if you keep quiet.”

Sison boils it down to homespun wisdom: “If you hire a yaya who will look after your home and your children, do you place competence ahead of trustworthiness as a criterion? In this case, trustworthiness is part of competence. We can teach yayas how to care for home and children. But no one can just train people how to be trustworthy.” #30