MANILA, Philippines—Malacanang said Saturday that Interior Undersecretary Rico E. Puno should provide evidence to back his claim that cliques in President Aquino’s administration wanted him out and were behind talk that he was receiving multimillion-peso payola from operators of the illegal numbers racket “jueteng.”
The President’s deputy spokesperson, Abigail Valte, said the Palace did not know what to make of Puno’s statements to the Inquirer editors and reporters on Thursday night that Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo and administration hands from both the “Balay” and “Samar” cliques were behind a purported smear campaign against him.
“Perhaps … we should ask Undersecretary Puno what is the basis for the things that he said because we don’t have the information that would [serve as] basis for any comment on the matter,” Valte told government-run radio station dzRB.
“He is the best person to shed light on his statement,” she said of Puno, a longtime friend of the President and like him, a gun enthusiast.
No word from Aquino
Valte could not say how Mr. Aquino reacted to Puno’s allegation against his fellow administration functionaries.
“The news came out just this (Saturday) morning. The President has yet to give us any word on the matter,” she said. “It would be better if Undersecretary Puno would make clear what the basis of his sentiments is when he made those statements.”
Puno is under fire for the bungled police operation on Aug. 23 that resulted in the killing of eight Hong Kong tourists held hostage by a dismissed police official, as well as for allegedly receiving protection money from the underground jueteng racket, as disclosed by antigambling crusader Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz.
Not Kaya Natin!
He told the Inquirer editors and reporters that five groups including one led by Robredo were working to have him ousted.
In response, Robredo said Puno’s allegation was “unfair” because he had thought all along that they were “okay.”
Harvey Keh, lead convenor of the Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership, of which Robredo is a member, also denied that the group had told Cruz that Puno was on the take from jueteng operators.
In a phone interview Saturday, Keh told the Inquirer that his group was not working to have Puno ousted, as the latter had claimed.
“Kaya Natin! never talked to Archbishop Cruz on jueteng. I see him in various media forums but I just say ‘hi’ and ‘hello.’ The charge that we and Secretary Robredo are out to get [Puno] is absurd,” Keh said.
He said Kaya Natin! members were in constant contact with Robredo, “and never in any of these conversations did he say he wanted Puno to resign or [be ousted].”
Keh quoted Robredo as saying that he had “a good working relationship” based on “mutual respect” with Puno, and that reports that they were feuding were “exaggerated.”
Back to the wall?
“Secretary Robredo keeps saying he doesn’t want Puno out [of the Department of Interior and Local Government],” Keh said. “So it’s sad and disappointing that Puno would be pointing to the secretary as wanting to oust him. Maybe he has his back to the wall and he is firing at all corners.”
Keh also said his group did not have the money to launch a “demolition job” on Puno. “We are for good governance and ethical leadership,” he said.
He pointed out that Puno had gone on record naming possible replacements for Robredo but the latter merely “kept quiet and tried to understand where Puno was coming from.”
“But delicadeza (propriety) should have dictated that Puno not name any possible replacements for Robredo,” he said.
Likely to stay on
The President told reporters on Friday that there was “really a campaign to disparage [Puno’s] reputation,”
“He has so many skills,” Mr. Aquino said of his friend. “But when you look at the reports, it appears that he’s just a frequenter of the shooting range.”
Mr. Aquino also indicated that Puno still enjoyed his trust and was likely to stay on in his administration after a fruitful discussion of Puno’s functions as undersecretary and “errors” committed.
Norman Bordadora & Alcuin Papa, Phil. Daily Inquirer