Palace fires consultant linked to Napoles

by Ellen Tordesillas, VERA Files

Posted at Aug 25 2013 05:28 PM | Updated as of Aug 26 2013 05:10 PM

Alleged big-time pork barrel operator Janet Lim-Napoles has close ties with a Malacañang consultant whom President Benigno Aquino III ordered fired as soon as he discovered the connection two weeks ago.

Brian Raymund Yamsuan, consultant to Executive Secretary Paquito “Jojo” Ochoa, was ordered dismissed after he was mentioned as having brokered Napoles’ meeting with editors of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The transcript of that meeting was published in a series from Aug. 11 to 14. Yamsuan's name was mentioned twice.  

Palace officials were also concerned over Yamsuan's behavior, including receiving several millions of pesos from Napoles through a senator, sources said.

Assistant Secretary Jed Eva of the Office of the Executive Secretary confirmed the firing of Yamsuan. “Mr. Brian Yamsuan was hired as a consultant because of his experience and expertise in communications, but it was agreed that the engagement would be discontinued due to conflicts of interest with his other consultancies,” he said.

Eva stressed, “At no point during Mr. Yamsuan’s consultancy did he broach any of the issues concerning Ms. Napoles.”

In the Aug. 12 issue of PDI, Napoles told Inquirer columnist Solita "Winnie" Monsod that she asked Yamsuan if he knew people in Inquirer, which had been running stories of her multibillion-peso pork barrel scam operation based on the documents provided by her former associate Benhur Luy. 

“Sabi ko kay Brian, may access ba para sa Inquirer (I asked Brian, Do you have access to the Inquirer)?” she said. Yamsuan’s wife, Cathy, is a PDI reporter covering the Senate.

Told about Yamsuan’s role in the Napoles interview with PDI, Aquino, according to Palace sources, asked Ochoa, “Is this true?”

When Ochoa told Yamsuan about the President’s concern, Yamsuan promised , “Aayusin ko ito (I’ll fix this).”

The brief mention of Yamsuan’s name, however, led to the discovery of his alleged indebtedness to Napoles due to his gambling.

Sources said Yamsuan, former assistant secretary for public affairs in the Department of Interior and Local Government and spokesman of then Secretary Ronaldo Puno, recently lost P5 million in a poker game at Resorts World Manila. Wanting to recover his loss, he supposedly borrowed more from casino financiers that same night but lost even bigger.

A source said Yamsuan found himself deeply in debt he had to sell his two units in Rockwell (depending on the type of unit, prices range from P10 million to P50 million) and some vehicles (two of his cars are a BMW X5 and a Toyota Sienna). Despite this, the source said, he was still short by several millions to fully pay his debts.

Threatened by casino loan sharks, Yamsuan sought the help of a senator who, in turn, called Napoles and told her, “Janet, tulungan natin si Brian (Janet, let’s help Brian).”

Napoles immediately delivered the money in cash, according to the sources.

VERA Files tried to get the side of Yamsuan and Napoles through texts and calls, but they didn’t reply.  Detailed questions were sent through the text messages.

From PR to big league operator

Yamsuan had worked as media officer of then Sen. Edgardo Angara and later, Sen. Tessie Oreta. 

He joined Malacañang’s Media Relations and Accreditation Office during the administration of President Joseph Estrada where he met then Press Secretary Ricardo “Dong” Puno. He helped in Puno's failed senatorial bid but later on joined another Puno, Ronaldo, at the DILG during the Arroyo administration. He rose to become assistant secretary for public affairs and spokesman for the DILG secretary.

Yamsuan found himself jobless after the Arroyo administration. But not for long because through his friendship with lawyer Edward Serapio, forged during the Estrada administration, he was able to connect with Ochoa and obtain an appointment in early 2011.

Serapio did not respond to VERA Files’ request for a statement nor did he reply to text messages. 

Serapio is a partner in MOST, a law office where Ochoa is also a founding partner. MOST stands for Marcos (Liza Marcos, wife of Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr.), Ochoa, Serapio and Joseph Tan. 

MOST had participated as collaborating counsel in the preliminary stage of the kidnapping case filed against Napoles by Luy.

In a July 12, 2013 memo to media clarifying its role in the Napoles controversy, MOST said Napoles asked them in April to collaborate with her lawyer, Alfredo L. Villamor, regarding a kidnapping case that she was allegedly involved in.

The memo said, “The firm’s written engagement with Ms. Napoles was limited only to handling the preliminary investigation stage. It was agreed that should the Department of Justice (DOJ) recommend the filing of the kidnapping case against Ms. Napoles and her brother, the firm would have to determine whether or not it would continue to represent her at the trial stage.’’ 

MOST further said, “Even before the DOJ issued its resolution dismissing the complaint, MOST withdrew from the kidnapping case.”

Napoles has gone into hiding after a warrant of arrest was issued against her last Aug. 15 in connection with the Luy kidnapping. She is the subject of a joint investigation by the Department of Justice, Ombudsman and the Commission on Audit in the alleged P10 billion misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund, also known as pork barrel.

Sources said Yamsuan's links with Napoles go back to his DILG days where he wielded influence over local officials. He is rumored to be brokering pork barrel deals for Napoles with some senators. 

A Malacañang source said not a few eyebrows were raised with the appointment of Yamsuan as consultant given his closeness with Puno and his position in the Arroyo administration.

But the source said Ochoa believed it was better to have Yamsuan on his side than for the latter to work with those who may want to undermine the Aquino administration. “He believes in the strategy of ‘keeping your friends close and your enemies closer,’” the source said.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)