‘Candidates’ to lead COA?

BEING CHIEF bean counter may not sound that impressive, and the probability of going against countless politicians could be daunting. Yet the job of leading the 9,000 personnel under the Commission on Audit is crucial enough to merit a close scrutiny of the big names that have been floated as possible successors to outgoing COA Chairperson Ma. Gracia M. Pulido-Tan: Budget and Management Secretary Florencio ‘Butch’ B. Abad, Bureau of Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim S. Jacinto-Henares, and Executive Secretary Paquito ‘Jojo’ N. Ochoa Jr.

Under the 1987 Constitution, a COA chair must be at least 35 years old at the time of his/her appointment and a certified public accountant or lawyer with at least 10 years of experience in their respective fields. The law further requires that a COA chair must have not run for any public office immediately preceding his/her appointment.

Moreover, the COA chair and two other commissioners must not belong to the same profession. They are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Commission on Appointments. They will serve for a total of seven years and are prohibited by law to be reappointed. The commissioners could rise in rank to chair on two conditions. One, their promotion does not extend their service to the commission for more than seven years. Two, they are to serve the unexpired portion of their predecessor’s term.

So would Abad, Henares, or Ochoa be fit for the post? Here are some background information on each to help you decide:

Florencio ‘Butch’ B. Abad

Appointed Budget and Management Secretary in July 2010, Liberal Party stalwart Florencio B. Abad has led a department that seems to be sending mixed signals. While the Department of Budget and Management has introduced programs pushing for budget transparency, it has also been at the forefront of opaque disbursement practices as shown by the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel.

Last year, Janet Lim Napoles, the alleged mastermind of a scheme to siphon pork-barrel funds of lawmakers through fake NGOs, even accused Abad of introducing her to the idea of setting up foundations. Abad has flatly denied doing such a thing, and with having ever dealt with Napoles. Like many other politicians, however, Abad has formed and led a number of NGOs. Among these was the Batanes Development Foundation Incorporation (BDFI), which implemented programs under then lawmaker Abad’s Countrywide Development Fund (the pork barrel’s former name) and had, according to a 1999 COA report, an unliquidated balance of PhP5 million.

Abad has worked both in the legislative and executive branches of government over the last 28 years. He was elected representative of his hometown Batanes from 1987 to 1990. He was re-elected thrice for the same seat from 1995 to 2004. During his 12 years in Congress, Abad had a turn at being the majority floor leader; he also chaired the House committee on appropriations, as well as that on people’s power and participation and the special committee on the 20 priority provinces. In addition, he was the House’s adviser to the government panel on peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)/National People’s Army (NPA)/National Democratic Front (NDF).

His stint at the Budget Department is Abad’s longest yet as Cabinet member. He was named Agrarian Reform Secretary by then President Corazon C. Aquino in January 1990, but resigned just three months later. In 2004, he was appointed Education Secretary by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. A year later, however, Abad again resigned. This time around, though, he had company, having joined other Arroyo Cabinet members and heads of government agencies – collectively known as the ‘Hyatt 10’ – in calling on the then President to stand down in the wake of the “Hello Garci” election scandal.

Abad earned his degrees in business administration and law at the Ateneo de Manila University. He passed the bar in 1985 and was research director of the Ateneo Center for Social Policy and Public Affairs from 1986 to 1987. He completed his Master in Public Administration at the John F. Kennedy School of Government in Harvard University in 1994.

Abad was born into political family. His father Jorge was a four-time Batanes representative aside from being appointed Public Works, Transportation, and Communications Secretary. His mother Aurora was also once the representative of Batanes, and had also been the province’s officer-in-charge governor.

Butch Abad’s wife, Henedina ‘Dina’ Razon Abad, replaced him in Congress in 2004. Dina Abad was re-elected in 2010 and 2013. Their daughter, Julia Andrea, heads the Presidential Management Staff under the Aquino administration.

Butch Abad listed seven other relatives in government in his 2013 assets declaration. His first cousins Ramon and Fernando Barona are, respectively, judge at Batanes’s Regional Trial Court and bailiff at Ivana, Batanes’s Metropolitan Trial Court. His niece Myla Salvacion B. Pisig is director at the Office of the President’s Appointments Secretary Office. His nephew-in-law Parrish Pisig is senior accountant management specialist at the Philippine National Oil Company. His nephews Arvin Kim Barona, Marc Angelo Abad, and Dominic Abad are, respectively, tribal affairs assistant at National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, public affairs officer at the House of Representatives, and employee at Veterans Memorial Medical Center.

Kim S. Jacinto-Henares

Bureau of Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim S. Jacinto-Henares has earned the reputation of being a tough tax collector. Under her watch, the BIR has launched an aggressive anti-tax evasion campaign. It has filed charges against allegedly erring taxpayers, including popular personalities, politicians, and self-employed professionals. Its most controversial target so far has been boxing champion and Sarangani Representative Emmanuel ‘Manny’ D. Pacquiao, who complained of being politically hounded by the BIR after his bank accounts were frozen.

Henares was appointed as BIR head by President Benigno S. Aquino III in July 2010 upon his assumption into office. Henares had campaigned initially for Manuel ‘Mar’ A. Roxas II, but later became Aquino’s economic adviser when Roxas gave way to Aquino in the 2010 presidential election. In July 2012, Henares declined her nomination for the post of Supreme Court chief justice to continue leading the BIR.

Henares served a two-year stint as BIR deputy commissioner under the Arroyo administration. She was part of the Hyatt 10 group of senior government officials who quit their jobs in the Arroyo government in 2005. She worked as a tax lawyer in two law firms and as a senior private sector development specialist at the International Finance Corporation unit of the World Bank. In November 2014, she was named as one of the 25 members of the United Nations Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters.

Henares obtained her accounting degree at the De La Salle University, law at the Ateneo de Manila University, masters in Georgetown University, and advanced Math classes in Chinese schools. A target shooting ace, she is married to businessman Daniel ‘Danby’ L. Henares, who was appointed director of North Luzon Railways Corporation to serve from July 2013 to June 2014.

Paquito N. Ochoa Jr.

Paquito N. Ochoa Jr., has been Executive Secretary since Aquino took office in 2010. Ochoa also chairs the Cabinet cluster on security, justice, and peace, overseas preparedness response team, the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission, and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) Commission.

Ochoa had been Aquino’s legal adviser since 1998 and formed the latter’s legal arm during his presidential campaign. But their relationship goes a long way back, since their fathers and namesakes – both pillars in the Liberal Party – were good friends. Ochoa has even been quoted in media reports as saying that Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino Jr. was spared from becoming one of the victims at the Plaza Miranda bombing in 1971 because he attended Ochoa Sr.’s birthday party in Pulilan, Bulacan.

Jojo Ochoa took economics at the University of Santo Tomas and law at the Ateneo de Manila University. He passed the bar in 1986 and set up practice in Bulacan, where he became director and vice president of the provincial chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines. By the mid-1990s he had moved to Metro Manila and put up a law partnership. In 2006, he and three of his former Ateneo law school classmates formed the Marcos Ochoa Serapio Tan (MOST) Law Firm. Among the firm’s founding partners are the daughter-in-law of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and the personal lawyer of deposed President Joseph Estrada.

Ochoa had also headed the legal team of Liberal Party Vice Chairman Feliciano ‘Sonny’ Belmonte Jr. in 2001, when Belmonte ran for mayor of Quezon City. Ochoa then served as Quezon City Administrator from 2003 to 2010.

Ochoa is the brother-in-law of Science and Technology Secretary Mario G. Montejo. His sister Ma. Benita Regala is manager of Housing Technology Development Division of the National Housing Authority. He is also cousin to Lutgardo Navarro, deputy administrator at Light Rail Transit Authority. – PCIJ, February 2015

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