DILG chief to quit Cabinet for House race

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — INTERIOR Secretary Ronaldo Puno will resign from the Cabinet in March to run for Congress, informed sources said yesterday.

“My priority is to run for Congress but I will make the decision at the appropriate time,” Puno was quoted as telling his family members and political associates.

Puno is bent on recapturing his old congressional seat for Antipolo City, while his younger brother, lawyer and broadcaster Ricardo Puno Jr., is expected to run for congressman of Muntinlupa City.

Over the last few weeks, Puno had been preoccupied with building up the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino, one of the two major administration parties, of which he is chairman.

A good number of Lakas congressmen have defected to Kampi, to the consternation of Speaker Jose de Venecia, who heads Lakas.

Kampi now counts 70 congressmen under its wing.

At a meeting in Malacañang Monday, De Venecia and other Lakas bigwigs complained to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo that Kampi had been raiding Lakas ranks, including congressmen, governors and mayors.

Sources said Puno’s congressional comeback and the frenetic buildup at Kampi were part of preparations for his bid for the House speakership when Congress opens in July.

Puno’s move was seen as a reaction to reports that De Venecia is facing a strong challenge from Dagupan City Mayor Benjie Lim in the congressional race in the 4th District of Pangasinan.

Despite De Venecia’s political clout, he faces a serious threat from Lim, a former ally who has joined the opposition.

Sources said the tight congressional fight there prompted the Speaker to dissuade his wife, Gina de Venecia, from accepting the President’s offer to draft her as a senatorial bet for the administration.

“He is bracing for the fight of his life,” a Cabinet member close to De Venecia said.

Puno first revealed his plan to run for Congress a few months ago, and said he had already informed the President.

But Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said he was not privy to Puno’s election plan.