How will Ronnie Puno solve a problem like 105,000 euros?
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2008-10-21

When ex-PNP Comptroller Eliseo dela Paz was caught and detained by Russian airport customs authorities for trying to bring out 105,000 undeclared euros (approximately P7 million), it surprised many to hear Local Government Secretary Ronnie Puno justify the amount as a ‘contingency fund’ for the eight PNP officers who went to the 77th Interpol Assembly in Moscow.

Our surprise centered on the following questions:

1. If indeed it was official fund given for the one-week conference, then is that not too big an amount that violates government guidelines for official travel?

2. Conditioned by the case of ex-AFP Comptroller, Ret. Major General Carlos Garcia – is dela Paz another comptroller who may be in the game of money-laundering?

3. How can Sec. Puno justify something that violates government travel guidelines at this time when we’re facing a big financial uncertainty owing to the global financial meltdown?

4. Caught by Russian airport customs authorities when dela Paz was already leaving Moscow, does that not mean that the ex-PNP Comptroller originally brought with him much more than 105,000 euros?

5. How come a retired PNP general like dela Paz was in possession of the 105,000 euros and not one of the other PNP officers who were still in active status? Didn’t a COA official state on television that an ex official in possession of official funds can be guilty of technical malversation?

Ronnie Puno’s attempt to enumerate uses for the so-called ‘contingency fund’ does not wash simply because many of the expenses he mentioned are usually paid from here when an official represents the government overseas. Billeting expenses for the duration of the official schedule can be paid from here together with the participation fees.

For those who have traveled to expensive European cities, the 105,000 euros for 8 people for a week’s official business is simply too much. If the PNP official delegates were each given 250 euros daily — by itself already in excess of government official travel per diem — all 8 of them won’t even require more than 16,000 euros for an 8-day stay in Moscow.

We have to accept at face value that the 105,000 euros came from the PNP as Puno claimed. Otherwise, it is more puzzling for Puno to cover for dela Paz if that amount was the ex-PNP Comptroller’s personal fund.

Senator Miriam D. Santiago was less inclined though to accept the official PNP line. She wanted to find out if the 105,000 euros did not come from “PNP patrons” — as the lady Senator described them.

Now when you think that this could be from “PNP patrons” — we are exploring what could be an explosive mine field. But this Chair Wrecker can only agree with Sen. Santiago that the matter has to be probed.

Among the “PNP patrons” could be any of the following:

1. Drug lords

2. Jueteng lords

3. PNP suppliers

4. Politicians who benefit from ‘special protection’ or are seeking future favors from PNP generals.

Sen. Santiago was explicit about the so-called ‘contingency fund’ as possibly coming from drug lords or jueteng lords. Now, what she did not mention is that it could also have come from crime syndicates in Russia with operations to protect in Manila.

While we are not accusing dela Paz or any of the 7 other PNP officers with him of any wrongdoing, the enormity of the amount dela Paz was caught with suggests these possible dubious sources. In other words, the 105,000 euros could very well be the tip of an immense iceberg involving big crime syndicates.

Granting them the benefit of the doubt, Eliseo dela Paz and the PNP should only be too happy and welcome such a probe. If this is not investigated and credibly explained, dela Paz and the PNP will suffer from deep public suspicion that they are involved with big time criminal activities.

As to PNP suppliers, this brings us all back to the charges that ex-AFP Comptroller Ret. Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia is now facing. Eliseo dela Paz’s position as PNP Comptroller made him a vital clearance point in PNP procurement.

Now regarding the possibility that the money could be a politician’s ‘incentive’ for PNP protection and/or future favors, we cannot help but associate this with the present regime’s reputation for ‘pampering’ key officers of the AFP and the PNP in order to protect the long-embattled and threatened Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA).

This is particularly relevant in the light of the reality that under Ronnie Puno the PNP has become the new “Praetorian Guards” of GMA.

The “Praetorian Guards” used to be the AFP when ex-AFP Chief Hermogenes Esperon Jr. ruled the roost. But now under a professional officer in the person of Gen. Alexander Yano, Puno’s PNP has taken over the chores of being GMA’s “Praetorian Guards” after the assault on the Peninsula Hotel.

Even Ronnie Puno cannot avoid being considered as a possible “PNP patron.” If he is — as bruited about — really gunning to be 2010 president, it would be a big advantage for him to have a loyal PNP serving his political agenda.

I’m sure that campaign edge has not escaped the clever mind of the ‘Supremo’ of the 1992 Sulo Hotel Operation which the late Teddy Benigno exposed in his STAR column. If some operators from the AFP Marines, as the Garci Tapes showed, won the elections in 2004 ‑ then why not develop the PNP for 2010?

Logical isn’t it?

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