Ochoa defends President's budget
Ochoa grilled on alleged link to Napoles
MANILA - From a mere ten minutes in a rather friendly Senate, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa was grilled by congressmen for nearly 3 hours on the budget of the Office of the President for 2014 with one lawmaker criticizing him for his repeated failure to give answers to specific issues.
Compared to previous executive secretaries, Ochoa--a former city administrator of then Quezon City Mayor Sonny Belmonte--has been low-key and media-shy.
ACT Teachers Party List Rep. Antonio Tinio questioned Ochoa on why some P428.5 million in pork barrel funds of lawmakers were released through the Department of Agriculture to 9 allegedly bogus groups. Specifically, he asked Ochoa if the fund releases were authorized by President Aquino.
The lawmaker said the President could have stopped the release of the funds, noting that the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) was suspended on a mere word of the President.
He also noted that in the past, the PDAF of then Congressmen Mitos Magsaysay and Augusto Syjuco were not released.
Ochoa said he is not privy to the actual releases but assured Congress that the releases were made before any announcement of the President. He said the best evidence would be records of the Department of Budget and Management.
Tinio questioned Ochoa on why the Office of the President has some P500 million in confidential and intelligence funds.
He also pointed out that the Department of the Interior and Local Government has more intelligence funds than the Department of National Defense and Armed Forces of the Philippines because the Office of the President can augment the military's intelligence funds.
Special purpose funds
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares asked Ochoa to itemize the special purpose funds.
Ochoa itemized some of the lump sum amounts for the government's calamity fund, contingency fund, Department of Education fund, international commitments, miscellaneous personnel benefits fund, Priority Development Assistance Fund, and others.
He said budgetary support to government corporations and assistance to local government units are also lump sums.
However, when asked if line agencies have lump sums, Ochoa said: "I'm sorry. I don't have lump sums of the agencies. I understand there are."
Colmenares noted that the Office of the President is the most important agency to sit in the budget hearing.
"The expectation is it's familiar with the budget because the President submitted this. Considering the executive secretary is saying he is not familiar... may we request the executive secretary to submit a list of lump sum amounts in regular budget of the agencies," he said.
Colmenares also asked Ochoa to justify the P26 billion allocation for bottom-up budgeting, which is intended to allow the local communities to propose their own projects and how it will not duplicate the work of local government unites.
Ochoa said Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras could answer the question better.
Colmenares also asked Ochoa about the government's position on Syria and the situation of Filipinos there. Ochoa said the administration is concerned about the welfare of 3,000 Filipinos there but said the government's position on Syria will still need to be discussed by the Cabinet security cluster.
Colmenares later on remarked: "Wala tayong mahita na tanong sa Office of the President. Nakaka-frustrate lang."
"The Office of the President should know all the issues. Hindi ito simpleng defend lang ng budget ng presidente," he added.
Link to Napoles?
Ochoa also answered questions about his former law firm's ties to businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the P10 billion pork barrel scam.
The MOST law firm, which stands for Marcos, Ochoa, Serapio and Tan, used to represent Napoles.
"I have divested my interests in that law firm. Insofar as Napoles, I came to know they assisted, in the legal representation of Napoles but when I learned they were doing that, I advised them not to continue and they withdrew representation," he said.
Tinio then asked about former Ochoa consultant on media Bryan Yamsuan
Ochoa confirmed Yamsuan was let go because of his links to Napoles.
"There's just a news article that said he was involved. Right away, we decided to terminate his services. He's in the communications office. He monitors for me various news articles in all the media related activities," he said.
Ochoa maintained he doesn't know Napoles and that he wasn't aware of Yamsuan's links to Napoles.