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MANILA, Philippines – After three hours, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago on Friday terminated a controversial hearing she called motu propio into ex-DILG Undersecretary Rico E. Puno’s role in the Robredo condo ‘lockdown,’ jueteng and arms deals in the National Police (PNP), and said no panel report will ensue from her inquiry.
“This hearing is dismissed,” Santiago said, banging the gavel before adjourning the inquiry conducted by the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments, Revision of Codes and Laws that she chairs.
In a press briefing after the hearing, Santiago said the session will be the first and the last because there are no more reasons to continue the inquiry, as Puno has resigned.
And, while she and the controversial DILG undersecretary were cordial to each other after the hearing, Santiago told reporters she was tired of hearing Puno trying to evade the truth.
“I have drawn my conclusion that as a former RTC judge, at my age 67, I can always draw a conclusion for what I’ve already heard and from the records of this committee,” Santiago said.
No committee report
Santiago also said she will not draft any committee report for possible recommendations on the purpose of the inquiry, as she worries the Senate in plenary will raise objections to its legal basis.
“I will not make any committee report since I don’t think they would heed any advice I make, judging by their absence this afternoon. I just called up [Senators] Alan [Cayetano] and Koko [Pimentel], asking them to attend so I can have a quorum,” Santiago explained.
“I might file a committee report that the other senators will not approve anyway. I’m not on good terms with some of them,” she added.
However, Santiago reiterated that there is an obscure provision under the Rules of Procedures Governing Inquiries in Aid of Legislation that even one senator can constitute a quorum.
“They [other senators] don’t know that,” Santiago said.
She insisted that there is a need, as chairman of the committee on revision of laws, to inquire whether the Administrative Code or the DILG Act of 1996 had been violated in the appointment of Puno---who has been publicly understood to have monopolized the “Interior” side of the DILG portfolio, leaving his boss, Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, only with the Local Government side. At Friday’s hearing, Puno denied this was the set-up until his boss’s untimely death last August 18 in a plane crash. Puno said from the start, he was just assigned to the police and Bureau of Fire Protection, chiefly to represent and advise Robredo.
In view of the controversial set-up at DILG, Santiago said “it is essential for me to determine whether the administrative Code and the DILG Act of 1996 should be re-examined, and revived.”
Senate sources said, however, the inquiry had gone beyond the DILG structural question into the gun procurement controversies---subjects not under Santiago’s committee.
Puno’s presence welcome, but not his answers
Santiago also said that although she welcomed the presence of Puno so he can air his side, she rejected the answers from the former official.
“I cannot grasp the logic of what he was saying,” she said.
Examples of conflicts in the testimony of Puno, per Santiago:
One, Puno said he was not directly in-charge of the PNP but Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa said otherwise on his appointment.
“There is contradiction in the statement of Ochoa that Mr. Puno has complete control over the PNP. I think the exact word is “direct control over the PNP, and Mr. Puno claimed that he never participated directly in the PNP, Santaigo argued.
Two, Puno testified that he was appointed to be an observer in the proceedings of the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) regarding the purchase of hand guns and rifles for the police.
“But he says, he was never appointed as observer, he merely asked Secretary Robredo to [let him] be an observer. But in the absence of the approval on the part of secretary, he now assumed he is part of the observer [team],” Santiago said.
“If that is not interference or participating, I don’t know what it is. As far as I know, an observer is allowed just to attend, not participate in the process. The moment one makes an advice which is completely followed by the BAC, that person is no longer an observer but a participant,” Santiago added.