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DILG Usec Puno is gun enthusiast, longtime PNoy friend

Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Undersecretary Rico Puno, the official reportedly in charge of the police during the August 23 hostage crisis, is a firearms aficionado and a longtime friend of President Benigno Aquino III. Puno, a distinguished marksman like Aquino, served as a board member of the National Range Officers Institute and the Philippine Practical Shooting Association. He was also president of the Far East Ballistics Corporation from 1992 to 1995 where he implemented "policies for the improvement and development in the production of ammunition," according to the profile of Puno furnished by Malacañang. He was instrumental in "creating new markets for the products of the company as he opened its doors" to the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), stated the profile. But the profile also shows that Puno lacks experience in actual law enforcement, and has no background in the strategy and management of crises such as the August 23 hostage-taking which caused the deaths of nine people, including hijacker Rolando Mendoza and eight Hong Kong tourists. Aquino said on Tuesday that at the start of his administration, he told DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo, an award-winning former mayor of Naga City, to concentrate on improving local government and leave the handling of the police to Puno. Sec. Robredo should focus on "the things that affect the local governments primarily," said Aquino. He added, "I designated Undersecretary Puno to be more directly in charge [of the police]." According to his profile as undersecretary for peace and order, Puno supervises the PNP, the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, and the Philippine Public Safety Colleges (PPSC). The PNP is an attached agency of the DILG. The Manila Police District, under the PNP's National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO), was in charge of the failed attempt to rescue the hostages. 'Aquino was monitoring through Puno' Puno was the one in direct communication with police on the ground during the hostage crisis, Presidential Communications Operations Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a press briefing in Malacañang on Thursday. Meanwhile, Robredo was reportedly assigned to monitor the participation of other government officials especially after a National Police Commission (Napolcom) officer allegedly made unauthorized statements to the media. Asked whether Puno reported directly to Aquino during the hostage crisis, Coloma said, "They were in close coordination with each other. President Aquino was monitoring it through Undersecretary Puno." "Ganyan naman po ang nangyari noon. Lahat po ng mga official na binigyan ng assignment ng ating pangulo were reporting to him periodically (That's what happened then. All the officials the president gave assignments to were reporting to him periodically)," Coloma added. During the presidential campaign earlier this year, Puno was often seen at Aquino's sorties. Before being appointed to the DILG, was the overall ground commander of the President's senatorial campaign during the May 2007 elections, which Aquino won. Puno later worked with Aquino in the Senate. As Aquino's consultant in the Senate Committee on Public Order and Safety and Dangerous Drugs, Puno "reviewed and analyzed pertinent laws and policies" of the Dangerous Drugs Board. Meanwhile, in 2009-2010, Puno "was in charge of coordinating and working with the AFP and PNP regarding the required budget appropriations and equipment" in the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs. Factions a factor in crisis? Some media reports traced the seemingly poor handling of the August 23 crisis to alleged factions that emerged within Aquino's camp during his presidential campaign, two of which have come to be known as the "Samar" and "Balay" groups. Puno reportedly belongs to the Samar Group, which was allegedly supportive of then Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay's vice-presidential bid. Robredo, on the other hand, was supposedly backed by the Balay Group, which was loyal to Aquino's running mate, former Senator Mar Roxas. There were definitely "groups" during the campaign period, admitted Budget Secretary Florencio Abad in a radio interview. "Hindi ko alam kung patuloy na nagkakaroon… ang panawagan lang natin meron mang paksyon o grupo, dapat iisa lang ang adhikain," he said. (I don't know if the groups continued to exist. But our only appeal is that, whether there are factions or groups, there should only be one cause to pursue.) Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda had earlier denied that there were rifts in the Aquino administration caused by factions, which were so named because of the locations of their headquarters: Balay in Cubao, and Samar Ave. in Quezon City. (See: Cabinet execs deny rift caused poor hostage crisis response) "Ang sinasabing Balay Group and Samar group was during the campaign pero lahat kami ngayon ay nagtatrabaho para kay Pangulong Aquino (The so-called Balay Group and Samar group were during the campaign but we're all working for President Aquino now)," said Lacierda. –VVP/LRS/JV, GMANews.TV