What the late Secretary Jesse Robredo could not accomplish in life in the past two years, he did through his death: the removal of Undersecretary Rico E. Puno from the Department of the Interior and Local Government, and the end of the latter’s hold over the Philippine National Police.
This is not facetiousness over Robredo’s tragic death but a condemnation of the treatment he got under President Aquino, who reduced him to a figurehead at the DILG by de facto putting the PNP under the command of Puno, Mr. Aquino’s shooting-range buddy and confidante.
The PNP is to the DILG chief what the Armed Forces is to the defense chief. The arrangement that Robredo suffered at the DILG was as if Mr. Aquino ordered Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to turn over supervision of the AFP to an undersecretary, and for him to concentrate on the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
The DILG chief actually has little real control over local governments, especially over the powerful cities, which are chartered corporations that are practically independent kingdoms. The DILG chief’s main responsibility and power are theoretically his control over the PNP, which, with its 140,000 mostly armed personnel stationed in every corner of the archipelago, is the Philippines’ most powerful organization, bigger than the 120,000-person AFP. This is through his designation, under Republic Act No. 6975 of 1990, as chair of the National Police Commission (Napolcom), which is the body supervising the PNP.
Yet Mr. Aquino practically stripped Robredo of that power. The recent revelations on Puno’s supervision over the PNP’s questioned purchases of pistols and assault rifles confirmed that he had a tight hold on the police, cloaked by his designation as DILG “undersecretary for peace and order.”
Even the media got to forget that Robredo legally had authority over the PNP, with occasional news reports in the past two years referring to Puno as the Napolcom chair. The most visible member of the Napolcom has been its vice chair and executive director, Eduardo Escueta, formerly the chief of staff and favorite protégé of Sen. Edgardo Angara. Imagine Robredo’s frustration, with his two deputies most probably getting their marching orders from two other powerful figures.
The anomalous—even humiliating—arrangement that Mr. Aquino put Robredo in at the DILG was in fact revealed during the August 2010 Luneta hostage crisis. By his own revelations, Robredo was reduced by Mr. Aquino to a bystander during the episode, with the President ordering Puno to direct—incompetently, it turned out—the resolution of the crisis. Recently, Naga Vice Mayor Gabby Bordado revealed that Robredo even cried over the episode, as he was put out of the loop during the crisis.
The interagency Incident Investigation and Review Committee in 2010 recommended that administrative and criminal cases be filed against 15 officials, including Puno. But Mr. Aquino protected his buddy, and ignored the report so that none of the officials was made accountable, to the continuing anger of the Hong Kong government and the relatives of the eight tourists killed.
Next to Maria Lourdes Sereno’s designation as Chief Justice, Puno’s control over the PNP had been the most outrageous appointment of President Aquino. Apart from his being a long-time friend and staff member of Mr. Aquino, Puno has as his only other qualification that comes remotely close to having an idea of the nature of the PNP is his obsession with guns, which he shares with Mr. Aquino. Puno is not even a lawyer, as Napolcom vice chair Escueta is, and it is not known if he even has a college degree.
Yet Mr. Aquino appointed him to oversee the PNP—an insult to Robredo, whom Mr. Aquino would profusely praise after his death as the daang-matuwid hero. Crime rates have soared, and illegal drugs have proliferated so much that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime identified the Philippines as one of three countries—together with China and Burma (Myanmar)—that are global manufacturing centers of shabu. These are all problems the PNP has terribly failed to address.
Yet for two years Mr. Aquino had Puno—the real daang-matuwid poster boy—supervising the PNP. Why?
Could it be jueteng, which only the PNP really can eradicate? After all, with a daily take of P50 million, or P18 billion yearly, according to Sen. Panfilo Lacson, its loose change can finance the Liberal Party’s electoral campaign kitty next year. Was it the explosive confidential reports on jueteng that Puno was trying to get in Robredo’s private quarters?
In all the praises he heaped during Robredo’s wake, Mr. Aquino was deafeningly silent on Robredo’s efforts to eradicate jueteng. Robredo, in fact, according to his allies, had become despondent over his failure to do so. But how could he fight the gambling lords, when the PNP was not under his control? Jueteng operators in fact had become so audacious as to have moved into Robredo’s home province, an insult to him as he had been proud of eradicating the vice in Naga City when he was its mayor many years ago.
I would like to think that Puno’s fall is Robredo’s revenge. I may be too naively optimistic, though, as Mr. Aquino has announced that he wants PNP Director General Nicanor Bartolome to replace Puno, which would simply mean putting his factotum’s factotum in the post.
New Interior Secretary Mar Roxas is too elitist and too rich to go to bed with jueteng operators. But Roxas is not a street fighter, nor is he street-smart enough to outmaneuver the gambling lords and their police allies. And can he resist the idea that jueteng funds could ensure the victory next year of his grandpa’s righteous, incorruptible Liberal Party?