Aquino buddies under fire
House seeks probe of Puno, Torres, Ochoa, etc.By Cynthia D. Balana
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Opposition lawmakers are training their guns on the “kakampi, kaklase and kabarilan” of President Benigno Aquino III whom Malacañang has purportedly been coddling.
Speaking on Wednesday at a press conference, House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman announced the filing of a yet unnumbered resolution calling for the investigation of Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno for alleged bribery, Land and Transportation Office (LTO) chief Virginia Torres for alleged illegal meddling, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. for his reported P40-million mansion, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima for the alleged filing of tax charges against political enemies and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) Chair Margarita Juico for alleged irregularities in her office, including its transfer from the Quezon Institute to the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC).
Asked to comment, Malacañang said the opposition was “scraping the bottom of the barrel” in trying to accuse administration officials of corruption.
“These are poor attempts to impute anomalies to an administration that has committed itself against graft,” Edwin Lacierda, the President’s spokesperson, told the Inquirer.
“I suggest to them that they focus their attention on something more useful … for the Filipino people,” he said.
Lagman said that while it had taken the people 25 years to stamp out cronyism during the Marcos regime, the same malady was back in the Aquino administration.
“And when these close associates run afoul, true to the crony patron he has shown himself to be, President Aquino drags his feet in investigating, reprimanding and firing, even as he harangues and harasses political rivals with no basis or evidence,” Lagman said.
He said the resolution would be referred to the House committee on good government.
In a statement read by Lanao del Norte Rep. Fatima Aliah Dimaporo, the House minority said: “A year ago, we were promised a government run by people chosen on the basis of integrity, competence and performance. Today, we have a government where there is a surfeit of kakampi (party mates), kaklase (classmates) and kabarilan (shooting buddies).
“We in the House minority will also not let good governance and the national interest be compromised to accommodate the presidential barkada (friends) and repay political debts.”
Lacierda said Ochoa had explained the circumstances behind the P40-million mansion in White Plains, Quezon City.
Ochoa had said that the house was owned by his brother-in-law Jerry L. Acuzar and wife Tess Ochoa-Acuzar, and that the property was bought by the couple on March 20, 2009, through their company, Hedgerow Retain Holdings.
Lacierda said Torres had already been investigated by the Department of Justice (DoJ).
He said Purisima had sufficiently explained his tax situation to the bicameral Commission on Appointments, had “no tax liabilities” and had “already been confirmed, by the way.”
Lacierda also said Juico had explained numerous times that it was cheaper to transfer the PCSO to the PICC than have the Quezon Institute building repaired after it was declared unfit.
“The opposition is scraping the bottom of the barrel without substantial issues that can be taken against [the administration],” Lacierda said.
Based on evidence
Purisima has been accused of harassing the President’s political enemies by indiscriminately filing tax evasion charges through the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), but not filing his own correct income tax returns.
The eldest child of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Ang Galing Pinoy Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, was the first to cry foul after he and his wife Angela were slapped with criminal charges in the justice department for allegedly evading payment of taxes worth P73.85 million from 2004 to 2009.
Asked to comment, Purisima on Wednesday said: “The BIR and [the Bureau of] Customs file cases based on evidence, and not on personality. The allegation that we are singling out officials of the past administration is far from the truth.
“Taking a look at all the cases we have filed, one can decipher that such have enough bases which, we are confident, can stand court scrutiny.”
Torres was told by the President to go on leave in April to allow the investigation of a complaint filed against her by the LTO’s technology supplier, Stradcom Corp. She is scheduled to return to her post on June 19.
A fact-finding committee of the DoJ had recommended the filing of administrative charges against her for alleged complicity in the failed takeover of Stradcom last Dec. 9.
The panel said Torres should be charged with gross neglect of duty or gross incompetence, or in the alternative, with grave misconduct.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has endorsed the committee’s recommendation.
Dimaporo on Wednesday said the minority bloc was hoping that Mar Roxas, the newly appointed transportation secretary, would “not let P-Noy’s kabarilan, LTO Secretary Torres, resume her unsavory ways of threatening to jeopardize the nation’s entire driver licensing and vehicle registration system.”
But Torres said she was “ready to face any investigation at any time.”
“All of my actions are documented and … aboveboard,” she said, adding that she would stay as head of the LTO until told to quit by the President.
Torres’ return as LTO chief has also been linked to the resignation of Transportation Secretary Jose de Jesus.
According to Davao del Sur Rep. Marc Douglas Cagas, Juico’s “arrogance” in office should not be tolerated, especially because she heads an office that deals with the poor.
The minority bloc assailed Juico for “claiming financial troubles and denying much-needed assistance, while sitting on billions of pesos in the bank left intact by the previous administration.”
But Juico expressed no surprise over the criticisms, saying that she was an easy target considering how she and other PCSO officials were discovering the way things were run by the past administration and the persons who had benefited.
“I anticipated that at the rate things are being uncovered [at the PCSO, certain] people will be out to derail us. I expected as much,” she told the Inquirer in a phone interview.
Juico, nevertheless, said she was prepared to answer criticism over the PCSO’s transfer to its current location. She said the move was supported by documents.
Puno, a gun enthusiast and longtime friend of the President, was included on a list of officials who were purportedly receiving protection money from operators of the illegal numbers racket “jueteng.”
The list was submitted by retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz during a Senate inquiry into the matter.
Puno was also among the officials recommended by a fact-finding committee as liable for the Aug. 23, 2010, hostage crisis that resulted in the killing of a number of Hong Kong tourists by a dismissed police official, who was also shot dead.
Commenting on the hostage crisis at Rizal Park, Lacierda said Puno was not administratively charged even after the committee’s investigation.
“What did he do wrong?” Lacierda said. With reports from Norman Bordadora, Paolo G. Montecillo, Jeannette I. Andrade and Ron Domingo