MANILA, Philippines—Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. on Monday distanced himself from businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, who has been implicated in the alleged P10-billion pork barrel scam, saying he does not know her personally.
Ochoa said he had advised his former law firm, MOST (Marcos Ochoa Serapio and Tan), to withdraw from representing Napoles when he learned that the law office had initially worked with her.
The executive secretary made the statements at the budget hearing on Monday when ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio inquired about his supposed ties to the controversial businesswoman.
As to his consultant Brian Yamsuan, aide to former Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno, Ochoa said he had been fired because of his ties to Napoles.
Asked about Yamsuan and Napoles’ association, the executive secretary said this was revealed in news reports.
“There’s just a news article that said he was involved. Right away, we decided to terminate his services,” he said.
Ochoa said he had not been aware of Yamsuan’s ties to Napoles.
It was Yamsuan who arranged the round-table discussion between Napoles and Inquirer reporters, editors and columnists last month at the newspaper’s editorial offices in Makati City.
Ochoa also denied during the budget hearing that he knew Philippine Forest Corp. (Philforest) President Erwin Santos and that the latter was being given special treatment.
“I haven’t met him at all. I don’t even know the guy,” Ochoa said.
He also said that the President did not reappoint Santos, who was an official from the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and that he was heading Philforest in a holdover capacity.
“Nothing special about him. It just so happened he is still there in a holdover capacity,” he said.
Philforest awarded 2,000 hectares in Busuanga, Palawan province, to New San Jose Builders Inc., a company owned by Ochoa’s brother-in-law, Jose “Jerry” Acuzar. Whistle-blower Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada claimed that the deal was disadvantageous to the government.
Malacañang said the deal was rescinded in 2011.
Philforest was one of the five government corporations that a number of lawmakers used as conduit of their pork barrel for dubious nongovernment organizations.
In the wake of the pork barrel scam, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said Philforest would be abolished soon and that Santos had been suspended indefinitely.