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Lockdown or raid? Puno, police visit to Robredo condo raises questions
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA, Philippines - Why was DILG undersecretary Rico Puno at the condominium and office of the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, less than a day after Robredo was confirmed to have been in a plane that crashed in Masbate on August 18? 

According to one of the police officers who were with Puno, he was acting on the premise that they were there on orders of President Benigno Aquino III.

The account of Supt. Oliver Tanseco, deputy senior police assistant of the late secretary, raises more questions on top of those raised about the events and motives in the hours and day immediately after the plane crash. 

A report by ABS-CBN News says that Puno, with a team of police officers, had tried - but failed - on August 19 to enter the Quezon City condominium and office of Robredo, apparently without the knowledge or consent of Robredo's family, nor of the President's. The report claims Puno's party was thwarted from entering the Robredo condo by a maid who had alerted Robredo's wife, even as Mrs. Robredo, in Naga City, was still grappling with fresh news of the plane crash. The country was days away from confirmation of the DILG secretary's death. 

Tanseco disputes the ABS-CBN report, claiming they were in fact at Robredo's condo and office at the behest of President Aquino. 

Another order to Ochoa

But his assertion still raises questions, given that President Aquino is established to have ordered Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, with Justice Secretary Leila De Lima, on August 22 to lock down and secure the Robredo condominium, as well as the Interior secretary's offices at the DILG and National Police Commission.

The ABS-CBN report suggests that Ochoa's actions were a direct response to Leni Robredo's alarm at news of Puno and team's attempts to enter Secretary Robredo's home and office. Tanseco's account would suggest that the first order to secure both premises went to Puno, and that there was a subsequent - if redundant - order directed to Ochoa for an identical mission.

President Benigno Aquino's spokesman Ramon Carandang earlier revealed that before his death Robredo had been "conducting a number of very sensitive investigations", although he declined to say who or what was being investigated.

On Friday television station GMA quoted high ranking sources as saying Robredo had been investigating Puno before his death.

Anti-crime crusader Teresita Ang-See, a supporter of Robredo, was also quoted by the station as saying she knew the late minister was investigating possible anomalies in his own department.

Spokesmen for Puno and the Department of Interior, which oversees the national police force, the firefighting agencies and local government units, declined to comment on the alleged condo visit.

National police commission vice-chairman Edgardo Escueta said in an interview broadcast on TV5 on Friday, that Puno was just following President Benigno Aquino's orders to secure Robredo's papers and equipment.

"The reason they came... with Undersecretary Puno on that day was to lock up the office on the orders of our president," he said.

The station also showed footage supposedly showing Puno's aides securing the condominium unit to make sure that Robredo's papers would not be tampered with.

When asked to confirm Escueta's account, President Aquino's spokeswoman Abigail Valte said in a brief statement: "I have no information on that."

Aquino, who was elected in 2010, had recruited Robredo into his cabinet as part of his campaign to fight the endemic corruption in the Philippines.

'It wasn't a raid'

Supt. Tanseco said Aquino directed Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno on the night of August 18, the day Robredo’s plane crashed off Masbate, to secure Robredo’s offices at the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) at the Francisco Gold Condominium in Quezon City and the National Police Commission (Napolcom) in Makati City.

“Unang-una, walang raid na naganap. Ito po’y pagsunod sa kautusan ng ating Pangulo na ni-relay po ni Usec. Rico Puno nuong gabi ng August 18, Sabado. Ito yung araw na nawawala yung plane na sinasakyan ni Sec. Robredo,” Tanseco said.

Tanseco disputed an earlier report that Puno had rushed to Robredo’s offices and residence purportedly in an attempt to take out sensitive documents. Tanseco was named in a news report as one of those who accompanied Puno during the alleged raid.

A subsequent TV report cited sources as saying Puno himself was the target of an investigation that Robredo was overseeing.

'White House'

Tanseco said he personally heard Puno talk to the President over the phone the night of August 18. He said Robredo’s top management team, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Nicanor Bartolome, Interior Undersecretary Austere Panadero of the DILG and other officials were gathered at the residence of Bartolome inside Camp Crame known as the “White House,” which served as the operations center in the rescue efforts for Robredo.

Puno arrived at the White House 11 p.m. on August 18 from Cebu and got a call from the President, according to Tanseco.

“Sa harap [ko] tumawag ang Presidente at binanggit ni Usec. Puno ang pangalan ko na ako ang nagsesecure, nag-lockdown ng lahat ng opisina at personal na gamit ng ating Sec Robredo para i-maintain na walang dagdag, bawas, dahil importante ang mga laman,” Tanseco said.

Immediately on Sunday, Puno, Tanseco and officials from the QCPD and the Office of Internal Service (OIS) arrived at the DILG office to proceed with the lockdown.

The group took photos of Robredo’s office and secured the door and drawers with a tape to ensure that no items will be removed or added.

“Sandali lang yun. Lumabas na kami agad. Ako magpapatunay na walang kinuha, walang dinagdag na papeles dun [That went very briefly. We left the place right away. I will attest that no one took anything, nor added anything]. At no time were they alone in doing that,” Tanseco said.

Robredo residence

The group of Puno then went to Robredo’s condominium unit at Lansbergh Place in Quezon City and also secured the area.

Tanseco said he was the only one who went up to Robredo’s unit along with the security guard. Puno did not enter Robredo’s unit. Tanseco said he spoke to Robredo’s househelp, a certain Alice and gave her instructions.

“Kumatok ako, ang aking sinabi kay Alice yung mga instruction: walang magpapasok kahit sino. Walang magrerepair ng kung ano man. Ito’y mga instructions galing sa isang pulis [I knocked, then gave Alice this instruction: do not let anyone in. Do not let in anyone purporting to make repairs. These are instructions from the police],” Tanseco said.

After securing the area, the group then proceeded to the Napolcom office in Makati City and did the same procedures.

Nothing taken out

Tanseco stressed that no raid or attempt to ransack any files was done.

“Walang raid na ginawa kasi hindi lang isa ang pinuntahan… what was done was to lock down the offices. Kasi kung raid, there should have been an initial violation, something illegal must have been committed,” Tanseco said.

He stressed that during the lockdown, no items or documents were taken out from Robredo’s offices. With a report from Agence France-Presse