Who is Noynoy’s ‘Little President’?

By Carmela Fonbuena, abs-cbnNews.com/ Newsbreak

Posted at May 25 2010 07:12 PM | Updated as of May 26 2010 03:27 AM

Lawyer Jojo Ochoa, Quezon City’s ‘Little Mayor’ is Aquino’s pick for executive secretary

MANILA, Philippines—The choice of presidential frontrunner Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III for the sensitive position of Executive Secretary—the president’s alter ego—is an unknown.

Aquino’s longtime legal counsel, Paquito “Jojo” Ochoa Jr., has it in the bag, according to 2 sources privy to the selection process for Aquino’s Cabinet members. One of them said Ochoa is Aquino’s “only choice” so far.

Currently the administrator of Quezon City, Ochoa finished economics at the University of Santo Tomas and law at the Ateneo de Manila.

Ochoa’s name has come out in several newspapers and news web sites, but Aquino and Ochoa would not confirm nor deny the selection.

“I think it’s not yet appropriate to say anything as yet until Noy’s proclamation,” Ochoa said in a mobile text message to abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak.

Very close

Some people in Aquino’s camp are not happy with Ochoa’s selection, but they acknowledge that he is very close to Aquino.

Aquino himself defended Ochoa from his critics.

“Jojo Ochoa has been my principal legal counsel from the time I entered public service in 1998. If ever I stated a position with regards to the law, I don’t think I have ever been proven wrong in the position I took. And I have to credit him with a lot of sound advice,” Aquino said when asked about Ochoa.

“He has agreed to help me until the work in the transition period is done, but he already has been getting criticisms left and right,” Aquino added.

Aquino joined politics in 1998, when he was elected representative of Tarlac’s 2nd district. He served 3 terms in the House of Representatives before he won a Senate seat in 2007.

During the campaign, Ochoa headed the Aquino campaign’s legal team, Pinoy Lawyers.

Their fathers and namesakes—the late Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and former Pulilan Mayor Paquito Ochoa Sr.—were friends. The 2 sons share the passion for target shooting.

Interestingly, Jojo has close links to the Marcoses, the political archenemy of Noynoy’s parents. Louise Araneta-Marcos—the wife of Senator-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.—is Jojo’s partner at the Marcos, Ochoa, Serapio and Tan law firm.

(Read Ochoa’s profile in the law firm’s web site.)

Jojo and Louise, of course, had long been friends before she married Bongbong.

Jojo is currently on leave from the law firm, according to the firm’s web site.

Can he do the job?

Jojo is the “Little Mayor” of Quezon City since 2001. As city administrator, he was known as the alter ego of Mayor Feliciano Belmonte Jr.

Reports that he is going to be executive secretary has sparked debates within and outside Aquino’s camp whether or not he has sufficient experience to serve as “Little President.”

Aside from providing advice and directly assisting the President in managing government, the executive secretary has the following sensitive functions:
“Decide, for and in behalf of the President, matters not requiring personal presidential attention.”
“Exercise primary authority to sign papers "by authority of the President," attest executive orders and other presidential issuances unless attestation is specifically delegated to other officials by him or by the President.”

(Read the complete functions of the executive secretary in the Administrative Code of 1987.)

‘QC is microcosm of RP’

Former budget secretary Salvador Enriquez Jr., Jojo’s colleague in the Quezon City mayor’s advisory team, said Jojo is ready for the job in Malacañang.

“He has the competence. He has been accordingly trained in the hazards of running the business of Quezon City. It’s the microcosm of national government,” he said in a phone interview.

“Sa loob-loob ko, kung nahasa ka na diyan, baka puwede ka na. Di gaya ng iba, zero sa capability (I thought, if you’ve been trained here [as city administrator], maybe you can do it [as executive secretary], unlike others who have zero capability),” Enriquez added.

Jojo’s critics are concerned that he doesn’t have the “gravitas” and “political savvy” to work with Cabinet members, who are usually political heavyweights.

“The Executive Secretary is the little President or what is called the primus inter pares (the first among equals). He must not only have the trust and confidence of the President but the stature or gravitas to be probably respected by the Cabinet secretaries,” said an objective political observer, who is not a member of Aquino’s campaign team. (abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak)