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MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATE 4 - 7:33 p.m.) Hounded by controversy after the death of Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, Undersecretary Rico Puno has resigned. The inquiry sought by Sen. Miriam Santiago into his controversial scope of powers will continue, though - with Leni Robredo declining Santiago's invitation.
"Moving forward, I have resigned as DILG Undersecretary to support the President's decision to give a free hand to the incoming Secretary in forming a new team," he said in a statement released Tuesday.
Malacanang spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Puno submitted his resignation letter to President Benigno Aquino III last Friday. Aquino, through Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, accepted the resignation "effective immediately."
In his statement, Puno thanked Aquino for the "opportunity to serve our country and people."
Puno asserted he served as DILG undersecretary "to the best of my ability."
"When the President asked me to serve in the DILG, he emphasized that we need to strengthen the institution so that our uniformed personnel will become truly servants and protectors of our people," he said.
Puno, who Aquino acknwolwedges is a close friend, said that in his two years in the DILG, he only carried out assignments "in accordance with the President's mandate," singling out "reforms to ensure full transparency of procurement and bidding processes."
Recently, news broke that he allegedly tried to enter the late secretary's condominium unit in Quezon City soon after the plane crash in which Robredo died.
After an initial silence, Aquino came to his defense, saying he himself had ordered Puno on August 18, the day of the crash, to "secure" Robredo's office and the documents kept there and that Puno might have misinterpreted the order to include the condominium.
However, Aquino has also said that on August 19, he ordered Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Ochoa to secure Robredo's office. De Lima also said earlier that she had gone to Robredo's condominium to secure the place on the request of his widow, Leni.
For the first time, Puno presented his version of what initial news reports described as his attempt to "raid" Robredo's condominium.
He said Aquino called him around 8:45 p.m. on August 18, just as he was returning to Manila from Cebu where he and Robredo had attended an event that day.
Arriving in Manila late Saturday night, Puno said he went straight to PNP Director General Nicanor Bartolome's residence in Camp Crame around 11:30 p.m. There, with Bartolome, Interior Undersecretary Austere Panadero, Joan de la Cruz, a member of Robredo’s staff and Sr. Supt. Oliver Tanseco, deputy senior police aide of Robredo, present, Puno said he received another call from Aquino.
The next day, a Sunday, Puno said they went to Robredo's offices at the DILG, Camp Crame and the National Police Commission to seal these under his supervision. At Robredo's condominium unit, Puno said he stayed at the lobby and only instructed his team to sign the logbook. They were there for only 20 minutes, he said.
But at 3:30 p.m. the same day, he claimed he accompanied De Lima and members of the Presidential Security Group to inspect, seal and secure Robredo's offices and condominium unit, a process that took more than two hours.
Puno said he had earlier kept quiet about the controversy to ensure no confidential information leaked to the public because, as Undersecretary for Peace and Order, he was "entrusted with duties and responsibilities that involve strict confidence, security and protocol."
"Violating the confidential nature of my duties may expose people to danger or jeopardize critical operations. Hence, I am duty-bound to act with restraint and circumspection, even when subjected to personal attacks in the mass media. This is why I have opted not to react to the speculative accusations that have been hurled against me by some media organizations," he said.
Following this controversy, Puno was also linked to alleged anomalies in the purchase of guns and ammunition for the Philippine National Police.
Again, after a brief silence, Aquino again defended Puno, at one point saying it made no sense for the undersecretary to ruin his reputation for a "few millions" that he would end up spending for a defense lawyer.
At the same time, after naming Transportation Secretary Manuel Roxas II to replace Robredo, Aquino also said he would be replacing Puno as undersecretary.
Following is the full statement of Puno:
When the President asked me to serve in the DILG, he emphasized that we need to strengthen the institution so that our uniformed personnel will become truly servants and protectors of our people. For the past two years, I have carried out specific assignments in accordance with the President’s mandate.
We have introduced reforms to ensure full transparency of procurement and bidding processes. We have streamlined these processes to achieve the President’s objective of getting “the biggest bang for the buck” in providing basic equipment for enabling our uniformed personnel to perform their tasks effectively.
I believe that I have carried out my assigned duties to the best of my ability.
Moving forward, I have resigned as DILG Undersecretary to support the President’s decision to give a free hand to the incoming Secretary in forming a new team.
I wish to thank President Aquino for his trust and confidence in giving me the opportunity to serve our country and people.
Robredo widow declines to attend probe on Puno
Atty. Leni Gerona-Robredo, the widow of the late DILG Secretary, has declined an invitation by Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago to appear before the Senate probe on the controversial scope of powers of Undersecretary Puno, and his role in the “lockdown” of the offices of his boss, when Secretary Robredo was still missing after his plane crashed into Masbate Sea on August 18.
In a letter to Santiago dated September 10, 2012, Atty. Dominina T. Rances, head executive assistant to the late DILG Secretary Robredo, said “inasmuch as Atty. Gerona-Robredo would like to honor your invitation to the said committee hearing, it is with deep regret that the former begs to decline the invitation.”
Mrs. Robredo stays in Naga City with her youngest child Jilliane, said the letter, adding that “even as she grieves for the passing of Secretary Jesse M. Robredo, her hand are currently full in ensuring that her children are coping with the unfortunate event and she is afraid that such a very public event concerning her husband’s work might cause too much pain and stress to her family.”
Earlier, Santiago sent a letter to Mrs. Robredo inviting her to attend as a resource person in a legislative probe on Puno’s participation in the alleged lockdown on their condominium unit in Quezon City in accordance with the orders of President Benigno Aquino.
Santiago said she will look into the possible violation of the Administrative Code and the 1990 DILG Act when Puno was appointed as undersecretary for police matters at the agency.