Speaker says Secretary Ochoa not a heavy drinker

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 02 2010 05:37 PM | Updated as of Sep 03 2010 01:37 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Who is Executive Secretary Paquito "Jojo" Ochoa?

This question was raised again by some political observers following his lackluster performance as chief aide to the President during the Manila hostage crisis.

His former boss, now Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., however vouches for Ochoa, who was his city administrator when Belmonte was Quezon City mayor.

“Secretary Ochoa is a very upright person. He’s not the...he doesn’t have the best PR in the world, (but) he was one of best officials I've ever worked with. Hindi mahangin. He does his job diligently. A very upright person," he told reporters.

Still, the House Speaker is the first to admit Ochoa isn’t completely beyond reproach. He said he personally disapproved of Memorandum Circular No. 1, which Ochoa issued to fire all political appointees of the former administration.

"In fact, kung tinanong niya ko, I’d have disagreed with it.," he said.

Belmonte hopes though, that Ochoa's errors are just birth pains. “I think, there are first timers diyan. You make some mistakes," he said.

Belmonte said Ochoa helped him get Quezon City out of its own fiscal crisis when he was the city's administrator.

"At the beginning of our term, Quezon City was heavily indebted and he, as part of a small group, decided to attack the question of revenues directly, including raising taxes. Steadfast siya dun and after that, medyo easy sailing na," he said.

Not a drunkard


Belmonte also dismissed allegations that Ochoa is a drunk. A Newsbreak article earlier said Ochoa was seen very drunk at the lobby of the Manila Peninsula Hotel last August 27, just four days after the hostage crisis.

“I don’t think so. During the time he worked for me, I have never seen him drinking. I don’t think he’s a heavy drinker," Belmonte said in Ochoa's defense.

Unlike his predecessors, Ochoa has kept a low profile. This has led some political observers to think that his presence in governance is also not being felt.

As chief aide to the president, the Office of the Executive Secretary is the primus inter pares in the Cabinet. He serves as a clearing house for all matters that require presidential approval.

The Presidential Management Staff director-general, on the other hand, handles all the logistical needs of the President.

Aside from these, the occupant of the Office of the Executive Secretary is the lead aide of the President in day-to-day governance and, at times, even makes decisions on his or her behalf. He is also supposed to be  a top strategist of any president.

Meantime, Belmonte expressed hope that any factionalism in the Cabinet may be harnessed to better serve government and the President.

”I, for one, believe all of them are sincerely serving the government and the President, and it's inevitable that people come from various groups. That's an advantage in a democracy where we get people from different groups not monopolized by any faction. That’s a big advantage in time. Even now, they are functioning, not according to past associations, but with a united effort of trying to do a good job," he said.