‘Robredo’s revenge’

(The following column of mine, with the same title, was published on Sept. 21, 2012, more than a month after Jesse Robredo’s tragic death, in the Philippine Daily Inquirer when I was still writing for the paper. I am reprinting it, among other reasons, for his widow, Liberal Party vice presidential candidate Leni Robredo, to read it and realize the kind of party she is running under, which is using her this time, after they had used her husband. I hope this is forwarded to her, and I hope she cares enough to demand from President Aquino an explanation.)

WHAT the late Secretary Jesse Robredo could not accomplish in life in the past two years, he did through his death: the removal of Mr. Rico E. Puno from the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), and end his hold over the Philippine National Police.

This is not being facetious over Robredo’s tragic death but expressing condemnation of the treatment he got under President Aquino, who reduced him to a figurehead at the department by de facto putting the PNP under the command of Puno, his shooting-range buddy and confidante.

The PNP is to the DILG secretary what the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is to the National Defense secretary. The arrangement Robredo suffered at the DILG was as if Aquino ordered Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to turn over supervision of the Armed Forces to an undersecretary, and for him to concentrate on the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Administration.

The DILG secretary actually has little real control over local governments, especially over the powerful cities, which are chartered corporations that are practically independent kingdoms. The DILG secretary’s main responsibility, as well as source of power, is theoretically his control over the PNP, which, with its 140,000 mostly armed personnel stationed in every corner of the archipelago, is the most powerful organization in the country. It is bigger than the 120,000-strong Armed Forces of the Philippines. This is through his designation, under Republic Act No. 6975 of 1990, as chairman of the National Police Commission, which is the body supervising the PNP.

Yet, 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 over the police, cloaked by his designation as DILG “undersecretary for peace and order.”

Even media seem to have forgotten that Robredo legally had authority over the PNP, with news reports occasionally in the past two years referring to Puno as the Napolcom chairman. Even the most visible member of the Napolcom has been its vice chairman and executive director Eduardo Escueta, formerly the chief of staff and favorite protégé of Senator Edgardo Angara. Imagine Robredo’s frustration as he suspected that his two deputies most probably got their marching orders from two other powerful figures.

Campaign post in social media for candidacies of Roxas and Robredo, shamelessly credit-grabbing for former President Arroyo’s Ro-Ro “nautical highway” pet project.
Campaign post in social media for candidacies of Roxas and Robredo, shamelessly credit-grabbing for former President Arroyo’s Ro-Ro “nautical highway” pet project.

The anomalous – even humiliating – arrangement for Robredo’s position at the DILG was, in fact, revealed during the Luneta hostage crisis of August 2010. Robredo himself talked about how he was reduced by Aquino into 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 disclosed that Robredo even cried over the episode, as he was put out of the loop during the crisis.

Aquino protected his buddy
The interagency Incident Investigation and Review Committee in 2010 recommended that administrative and criminal cases be filed against 15 officials, including Puno, in relation to the hostage-taking incident. But Aquino protected his buddy, and ignored the report so that none of the officials was made accountable – to the continuing anger of the relatives and government of the eight Hong Kong victims killed.

Next to Lourdes Sereno’s designation as Chief Justice, Puno’s control over the PNP had been the most outrageous appointment made by President Aquino. Other than his being a long-time friend and staff of Mr. Aquino, Puno’s only other qualification that comes remotely close to having an idea what the PNP job was about, was his obsession with guns, which he shared with Aquino. Puno is not even a lawyer, as Napolcom vice chairman Escueta is, and it is not even known if he has a college degree.

Yet, Aquino had appointed him to oversee the PNP, an insult to Robredo, whom he would profusely praise after his death as the tuwid-na-daan hero. Crime rates have soared, and illegal drugs have proliferated so much that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime identified the country as one of three countries – together with China and Burma – that are global manufacturing centers for shabu. These are all problems the PNP has terribly failed to address.

Nevertheless, Aquino for two years had Puno – the real tuwid-na-daan 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 Senator Panfilo Lacson, its loose change can finance the Liberal Party’s electoral campaign kitty next year. Could it be that explosive confidential reports on jueteng were what Puno had been trying to retrieve at Robredo’s private office in his condominium?

Amid all the praises he heaped on Robredo during his wake, Aquino was deafeningly silent on the efforts by Leni’s husband to eradicate jueteng. Robredo, according to his allies, had become despondent over his failure to do so. But how could he fight the gambling lords without the PNP 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 that he had eradicated the vice in Naga City when he was 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 Aquino has announced that he wants PNP chief Nicanor Bartolome to replace Puno, which would simply mean putting his factotum’s factotum to the post.

Mar Roxas – if he manages to get to be DILG secretary – is not 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?

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