POSTSCRIPT / September 9, 2012 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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How will PNoy solve a problem like Puno?

RH BILL UPDATE: Cracks are showing in the seemingly impregnable wall that Reproductive Health advocates had thrown around the RH bill being shepherded for approval by a well-funded lobby in the Congress.

Malacañang is now reportedly willing to discuss with Catholic Church representatives how to make the RH bill acceptable to conscientious objectors. Actually the bill has been watered down already with pro-life amendments.

An “informal Technical Working Group“ representing the Palace, the two chamber of the Congress, the Church, and RH bill authors is reportedly being formed to discuss more amendments.

Where Malacañang goes, so will the Congress go.

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UNTOUCHABLE?: Without expert perception management, the long simmering Rico Puno phenomenon could seriously damage President Noynoy Aquino whose handlers are even now parading survey results showing him to be still popular.

Some good presidents have gone down in disgrace or had their image tarnished beyond repair because of scandals involving their spouses. For a bachelor president like Noynoy Aquino, could a similar problem develop from the missteps of such a buddy as Rico Puno?

A hint of the Puno problem hit the public consciousness early in the Aquino administration when he said (some said “boasted”) in an interview that the President would hesitate to touch him or something to that effect.

Even if he were that untouchable, it was unseemly for him to have said so.

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OUT OF THE LOOP: That early, wittingly or unwittingly, Puno already evinced the over-confidence of one who enjoyed immense influence over the President, whom he had served from way back and with whom must have shared secrets.

Then came the Luneta hostage fiasco in August 2010 where eight Hong Kong tourists held on a bus were massacred by a dismissed policeman who panicked and tried to shoot his way out of the problem then being covered live on nationwide TV.

The ensuing crisis that soured relations with China brought to the fore the oddity that while Secretary Jesse Robredo headed the Department of the Interior and Local Government, half of his turf – specifically police affairs — had been given to Puno, his undersecretary.

As the Luneta series of errors swallowed many top civilian and police officials, a helpless Robredo could only confess that as far as police matters were concerned, President Aquino had kept him “out of the loop.”

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P-NOY ORDER?: Fast forward to the present, we see Puno again in the crosshair of controversy — and his close association with President Aquino placed under scrutiny.

As media reports have it, at the time rescuers were looking for the body of Robredo, whose plane had crashed Aug. 18 off the coast of Masbate, Puno lost no time going to Robredo’s DILG office and his private condominium unit in Quezon City.

Reports gave the impression that Puno was looking for documents in the possession of Robredo who had been quietly investigating alleged irregularities where the name of Puno was being mentioned.

A senior police officer who had gone with Puno to the condominium and the DILG office explained that they had been instructed by President Aquino to lockup and preserve whatever documents were in those locations.

The President, attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Vladivostok in Russia, was to say later that he sent Puno to the DILG office. He did not mention Robredo’s private place.

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GUNS & JUETENG: This explanation bringing in the name of President Aquino has not quelled speculation that Puno may have been worried about incriminating documents possibly surfacing from Robredo’s files.

At the top of the head of many people are matters involving Puno’s turf: (1) Major purchases of the Philippine National Police and (2) the unabated problem of the illegal numbers game of jueteng and the attendant corruption.

An exclusive report by Anthony Taberna of ABS-CBN News, ANC, showed documents and the DILG’sinvestigation report on the planned purchase of assault rifles in two batches costing nearly P178 million and P213 million.

According to reports, Robredo had wanted a review of the price for the assault rifles.

One document secured by ABS-CBN, the original of which is reportedly in the possession of Robredo, can be inspected at http://tinyurl.com/98chtrj.

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SUPPLIER’S GUESTS?: Robredo got the investigation report last Aug. 8, less than two weeks before he died in the plane crash. There have been demands that a deeper investigation be conducted to determine if the aircraft was sabotaged.

Documents on the firearms deal revealed that Puno, President Aquino’s man with direct control of the PNP, travelled to Israel upon the invitation of weapons manufacturer Israel Military Industries.

Papers showed that Puno was accompanied by former SAF chief Director Leocadio Santiago, defense and security company owner Reynaldo Espineli, and Puno’s consultant, Ramiro Lopez III.

Puno and Lopez were both members of the bids and awards committee. Lopez was reportedly with Puno when he went to Robredo’s office at the National Police Commission a day after the plane crash.

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PAYOLA CONTINUES?: On the matter the illegal numbers game of jueteng that still flourishes under the Aquino administration, Church and civic groups are asking who in the Palace now takes the lion’s share in the payola.

Recall that former Ilocos Sur Gov. Chavit Singson had testified under oath that he was regularly delivering suitcases of jueteng payola to Malacañang during the time of President Erap Estrada (who denied having received money from jueteng lords).

President Aquino has not spoken or acted against jueteng, merely saying one time that that problem was not a priority item.

Since jueteng has grown under Aquino’s watch, the questions being asked now are: Who has taken the place of Singson as money bag and how far up does the regular payola go?

The inference is not fair to all officials, including Puno, being mentioned in connection with jueteng. Maybe a “tuwid na daan” approach to clearing up the ugly talk may be needed.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 9, 2012)

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