By Raïssa Robles
The day before Rico Puno resigned as Department of Interior and Local Governments undersecretary, I was able to interview Oliver Tanseco – the police officer who had accompanied Puno to the residential condo of the late DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo.
Robredo had introduced me personally to Police Superintendent Tanseco in April 2011 as one of the channels through which to communicate to his office. I sensed that Tanseco had Robredo’s trust.
Why is it important to verify the truth surrounding the condo visit of armed cops on the Sunday morning of August 19?
I can think of three reasons why – despite what Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said about the media fussing over nothing.
First, since I talked to Tanseco last Monday, at least three other conflicting versions of the same event have been told the public. I want to know why.
Second, sometimes it’s small incidents like these that expose much bigger things. Remember it was a break-in which uncovered the Watergate scandal, which led to the resignation of a sitting US President. Before anyone jumps on that last statement, I am not implying anything else by saying it.
Finally third, I found the unannounced and unauthorized visit to the residence of a missing top government official highly shocking. Recall that at that time, the public was riveted on finding Robredo alive, perhaps drifting on a piece of wreckage or swept to a remote island. Unknown to us all, here was Robredo’s underling showing up with not just one or two policemen but a sizable number of armed cops at the private residence of the missing Robredo that Sunday August 19. Offhand, it’s highly unusual for government officials to be on O.B. (official business) on a Sunday.
I’m wondering what those documents inside Robredo’s condo contained. One media report said De Lima later turned them over to Robredo’s widow. Is this true?
Broadcast network ABS-CBN had called the incident an attempted raid. To me it did look like an aborted police raid.
And if the idea all along was really to secure the condo and anyone inside from harm, my hubby Alan pointed out to me that the least the group could have done was leave someone behind to guard the premises. Isn’t it strange no one was left behind to guard the door of the condo?
And so I phoned Tanseco last Monday Sept 10 since he was a participant and eyewitness. But I did not write the Tanseco interview right away because I wanted to verify some things he had said. Instead, I uploaded President Benigno Aquino’s lengthy press briefing in Vladivostok.
The next day Tuesday, I had no time to write the piece again because I had to file a story on the aborted arms deal involving Puno for South China Morning Post (HK).
When Puno abruptly resigned Tuesday afternoon, I thought Tanseco’s story had been overtaken by events.
I was wrong. Portions of Puno’s version of the August 19 events contradicted those of Tanseco.
I phoned Tanseco and told him that Puno had resigned and issued a time-line which said that on August 19 at:
0930 H (9:30 am) Informed by Superintendent Tanseco that there were documents inside the residence/condominium of the Secretary.
1000 H (10:00 am) Led team to secure Secretary Robredo’s condominium unit; stayed in condominium lobby; instructed team to sign condominium log book to document our presence; left condominium after about 20 minutes. [Note: The highlighting in red is mine.]
I reminded Tanseco that he had told me that:
ONE: He did not know whether or not there were documents in Robredo’s residential condo. I had earlier asked him whether they had gone there precisely to look for documents. I reminded Tanseco that he had replied – “Wala, I was not there to look for documents.”
TWO: Tanseco had told me that the trip to Robredo’s condo was on Puno’s order.
THREE: Tanseco had gone up to the floor where the condo was located, leaving Puno and the cops on the ground floor lobby. However, when Tanseco opened the door of the condo unit, he found Puno and Senior Superintendent Joel Pagdilao waiting just outside the door.
Puno’s time-line stated that he “stayed in condominium lobby”. He also told veteran GMA News broadcaster that he had stayed in the ground floor lobby all throughout the episode.
I asked Tanseco which I should believe – Puno’s version or his version. I asked him if it was true he was the one who told Puno that there were documents inside Robredo’s condo.
Tanseco told me that before replying, he first wanted to read Puno’s statement “para naman safe ako.”
I repeated my question.
Tanseco replied: “Yung sinabi ko dati.”
“Ano yung sinabi mo dati?” I asked him.
He told me to call him back two hours later. He said he was late for a class he was teaching at the Public Safety College.
Since that early evening of Tuesday, Tanseco has chosen not to reply either to my text messages or my calls. I am greatly intrigued by what he had said – “Para safe naman ako.”
To this day I wonder why a police officer with a gun told me he needed to be safe – from whom?
Who is to be believed? Tanseco or President Benigno Aquino’s BFF – Best Friend Forever?
I don’t know at this point.
But I’d like to point out that Tanseco is not your run of the mill police officer. This is why I held off writing this, in order to check what he told me about his background.
Tanseco has a master’s degree in the College of Public Administration, University of the Philippines. He is about to finish a doctorate degree at the UP Institute of Mass Communications. Ironically, one of the areas he said he wanted to specialize in is “Crisis Communications.” I jokingly told him that he could turn his ongoing experience into a thesis.
I counter-checked with the IMC what he had said about himself. Nini Burlad of the IMC doctoral program office confirmed to me that Tanseco is currently studying there. In fact, Nini said:
Matatapos na nga siya. He’s graduating this sem. He was asked to present his oral dissertation within this month. After that, magiging Dr. Tanseco na siya.
Tanseco had told me that this incident has placed his 17 years in the PNP on the line.
Since I interviewed Tanseco, I have noticed that there have appeared three other versions on the condo visit: that of Puno, Philippine Star columnist Billy Esposo; and Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Conrado de Quiros.
Recall that in Puno’s version, it was Tanseco who told him about the documents in Robredo’s condo and Puno himself never went upstairs.
In Billy Esposo’s version, it was PNP Chief Nicanor Bartolome who “relayed” to Puno further instructions to also secure papers in the Robredo condo. Here is a portion from his column entitled “Why Rico Puno was targeted from Day 1 [the highlighting in red is mine]:
Last Tuesday, I was given a full briefing on the Rico Puno controversy the alleged “raid” and “break in”
1.There was no raid or break in at the Robredo condo. Puno went there consistent with orders that he had received from President Benigno S. Aquino III (P-Noy) to secure the sensitive papers of the late Jesse Robredo. Puno went to the condo after Chief PNP (Philippine National Police) Nicanor Bartolome relayed to Puno further instructions to also secure papers in the Robredo condo. Clearly, Puno was acting like a good soldier.
For his part, Conrado de Quiros implied that Tanseco was in fact lying when he said he had talked to Robredo’s maid. De Quiros said “there was no maid” in the first place. De Quiros also said “Puno has been found guilty without having been tried.”
Here is the pertinent portion of De Quiros’ piece entitled “Kafkaesque” [the highlighting in red is mine]:
After Robredo’s plane crashed, P-Noy ordered Puno to secure all of Robredo’s documents as they were extremely sensitive, and gambling lords in particular would be eager to get their hands on them. Puno complied. Going by the book, he brought along a group led by Supt. Oliver Tanseco. Tanseco is Robredo’s deputy chief of internal security and one of his trusted aides. They went to Jesse’s office, took pictures, and sealed it. Puno then reported it to the President.
That same night, Tanseco remembered that there were other documents in Robredo’s condo unit and called up Puno to propose that they secure it too. That call was witnessed by officials who, for reasons of their own, kept mum about it while Puno was being pilloried for stepping out of bounds but who now confess to it. The following day, Puno and Tanseco went over to Robredo’s house. They were never denied entry by the maid simply because there was no maid. In fact, there was no one inside. Puno himself remained in the lobby while his team took pictures of the unit from the outside. They never entered the unit. All in all, they spent 20 minutes there and left.
If that is the case, who opened Robredo’s door to allow Tanseco to enter? A non-maid?
Also, notice that in this version, it was Tanseco who had phoned Puno “witnessed by officials…” It was not President Aquino phoning Puno in the presence of officials, including Tanseco.
I’m not saying which version should be believed. All I’d like to do is for everyone to compare these two versions with Tanseco’s answers below. The questions are those which I asked him but are not in the order that I asked him:
Raissa Robles: Can you give me an account of what took place on August 18 that led to your condo visit on August 19?
Tanseco: We met around 10 or 11 pm of Saturday August 18. Doon mismo sa chief PNP (official residence). Puno was there, (Undersecretary Austere) Panadero, Joanne de la Cruz (Robredo’s personal staff), Benjie Nadea, may isa pa.
RR: Puno got a call from the president and gave the order to Usec Puno?
Tanseco: Yes. In front of (PNP Chief Nicanor) Bartolome, in front of everyone.
RR: Did you hear what the President told Puno?
Tanseco: I was 8 feet away (from Puno). So I didn’t hear. My name was mentioned (by Puno) to whoever was on the other side of the phone…the order was to secure documents. That’s what we are trained. We do follow orders even if I have to sacrifice something. That’s what my job is for. We are trained. That’s our job. Protecting our documents.
RR: The following day, after you secured Robredo’s office at Gold condominium, you went to his residential condo?
Tanseco: Yes, after ng office. Kasama na namin ang Quezon City police. Hindi sila pumasok sa condo. Ako lang po together with the security guard of the building.
RR: Where was Usec Puno when you were inside the condo?
Tanseco: Puno was on the ground floor. He (Puno) was outside the door (of the condo) by the time I went out, together with Sr Supt (Joel) Pagdilao.
RR: On what floor is Robredo’s condo?
Tanseco: I’d rather not say for security reasons.
RR: Did the maid know you?
Tanseco: Maid doesn’t know me.
RR: Was that the first time you went to his condo?
Tanseco: No, not the first time.
RR: Why did you go inside the condo?
Tanseco: The reason why I’m there was to brief the katulong – na walang papapasukin. Walang repair ng cable, TV, magdeliver the tubig.
RR: Did you go there in order to look for documents?
Tanseco:Wala. Not to look for documents.
RR: What happened with the katulong?
Tanseco: She was hesitant. I called up Atty Nina (Rances), (Robredo’s) executive assistant. She (Nina) said you cannot secure the condo, walang search warrant. I told Nina no one is going inside. Ako lang. Akala ko kasi alam na nila. Nagmiting na (the night before). Instructions were given. Yung assumption ko, nakapagcoordinate with the family. since no instruction was given, I immediately stepped out of the room.
That’s why I double-checked . I found out walang clearance kay Atty Leni (Robredo). That’s why I stepped out of the room. I did not touch any thing.
RR: Why did you not call Atty Leni?
Tanseco: I did not have the number of Ma’am Leny. Kay Secretary Robredo, work is work. Family is family.
RR: Who suggested you go over to the condo?
Tanseco: I’m trying to recall. [A brief pause.] It’s Usec Puno.
RR: Do you report to Secretary Robredo or Usec Puno?
Tanseco: Isa boss ko, si chief PNP. I’m assigned to the secretary. I answer to the (DILG) secretary as the senior police assistant.
RR: Sino and direct boss mo?
Tanseco: Si Sr Supt Francisco Penaflor at si Secretary Robredo. My official designation is deputy senior police assistant to the secretary. The order to secure was lawful. There were no unlawful orders to burn anything. It’s a lawful order. It’s a needed protocol at that time. I was there to carry out the interests of the secretary. Remember, hindi pa naman alam kung anong nangyari sa secretary.