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The ‘after-Puno’ mess

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By resigning his post, former Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno has seemingly put to rest all the controversy that has surrounded him since virtually the beginning of the P-Noy administration.

But Puno has also left in his wake a Department of the Interior and Local Government and police force roiled in questions, doubts and accusations, a mess that Interior Secretary-designate Mar Roxas will have to clean up if all the gains made on the way to the “matuwid na daan” paved by the P-Noy administration are to be preserved and widened.

Before his resignation on Monday, Puno found himself embroiled in allegations of having “forced” his way into the offices and private residence of the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo—at the time still missing—ostensibly to “secure” documents pertaining to investigations being undertaken. Then followed leaked reports of supposedly overpriced firearms being sold to the Philippine National Police, Puno’s involvement being a trip to Israel he made even as the bidding for the deal was going on.

Ironically, said a senior PNP official, the bidding for the guns was one of the most “open and transparent” undertaken by the police force. “The media are witnesses,” the official pointed out, saying the proceedings, including the opening of the bid documents, were attended by observers, including nongovernment organizations and the media covering the police headquarters. “Everything was aboveboard,” declared the official.

As for the undersecretary’s “suspicious” behavior, Malacañang has already sought to clear Puno’s name, saying the visits he paid to Robredo’s office and condominium unit were at President Aquino’s behest, and that he was accompanied by DILG officials, including Robredo’s immediate assistant.

So why did Puno resign his post? We can attribute this to media pressure, and perhaps Puno’s desire to spare P-Noy any more negative publicity linked to his person and actions. Some others point to the divisions that still persist within the P-Noy administration, to a split between two power blocs that was dramatically illustrated in the setup at the DILG while Robredo was alive, in which he shared power with Puno.

* * *

BUT the controversy raised around Puno’s actions in the DILG has also resulted in the drafting of PNP Director General Nicanor Bartolome to a “civilian” post, allegedly Puno’s old office at the DILG.

Asks the police official I talked with: “Why punish the police for all the mess at the DILG after Robredo’s death? Bartolome has been doing a good job at the PNP, and he needs more time to institute the reforms he has begun.”

Speculations about Bartolome’s transfer, fueled mainly by P-Noy’s remarks, reached fever pitch when the police general showed up at ceremonies in Camp Aguinaldo wearing civilian clothes—a  barong—to honor the NDRRMC personnel who took part in the rescue and recovery efforts after the plane crash where Robredo died, and in the rescue efforts after the recent floods following torrential monsoon rains.

Bartolome denied his plans to transfer soon, but his speculated departure follows a pattern set by his predecessors, who, after a few years (and even months) as PNP chief, went on to civilian posts after retirement. Bartolome is to retire in March next year.

* * *

IT’S A sad thing about Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who is rapidly losing all the goodwill he gained from presiding over the impeachment trial of then Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Enrile had silenced and reassured skeptics with his even-handed (if sometimes testy) leadership during the months of the trial, belying his age with his sharp analysis during the hearings, and with his reasoned and very credible explanation for his vote for impeachment.

But in his role as Senate President overseeing the legislative debates on such contentious measures as the Reproductive Health bill, Enrile has not only proven to be a hindrance to the bill’s progress but has even raised issues that have been rehashed and worried over to death.

For one, he has scheduled a privilege speech on the RH bill, but so far has not scheduled when or if he will deliver it. This raises suspicions that the purpose of his speech is more to delay passage of the bill rather than help clarify the issues so that the senators can finally vote on it.

If Enrile showed intellectual acumen and moral courage in his handling of the Corona impeachment, his actions as Senate President in the course of the debates over the RH bill show mental dishonesty of the highest order and a penchant for bending over backward merely to accommodate RH opponents.

* * *

SENATOR Enrile should deliver his pending privilege speech posthaste, if only to get off his chest his remaining doubts and misgivings on the RH bill, and then allow the senators to discuss and vote on the bill already.

The Filipino public has made up its mind about the need for, importance of, and couples’ right to access to all methods of family planning. What we’re seeing with this undemocratic, unreasonable holding pattern on the bill is the leaders’ pandering to a small slice of the Filipino public who still cannot bring themselves to help Filipino men and women achieve their own reproductive goals and freedoms.

Get with the program, guys and gals. It’s time the Philippines caught up with the rest of the enlightened world.


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