Ochoa designated as anti-crime commission head

- Delon Porcalla -

Manila, Philippines - President Aquino has designated Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. as the new head of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC) that used to be headed by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

During the time of former President Joseph Estrada, this agency was popularly known as Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF), which was headed by former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief and now Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

This was the same law enforcement agency during the time of former President Fidel Ramos, although this was known as Presidential Anti-Crime Commission that Estrada headed when he was still vice president, prior to his election to the presidency in June 1998.

Under Executive Order 46, Ochoa will be the chairman of the agency, with Secretaries Jesse Robredo of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, Leila de Lima of Justice, Voltaire Gazmin of National Defense, Albert del Rosario of Foreign Affairs, and National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia as members.

Also in the commission are Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Eduardo Oban Jr., PNP chief Raul Bacalzo, National Bureau of Investigation Director Magtanggol Gatdula, the director general of the National Intelligence Coordination Agency and the executive director of the Philippine Center on Transnational Crime.

The anti-crime body’s tasks include monitoring human trafficking, transnational crimes, drug trafficking, car theft, gunrunning, robbery, kidnapping for ransom, and smuggling incidents.

PAOCC is also tasked to investigate and prosecute heinous crimes, crimes committed by members of military and police personnel and government officials or employees, including those employed by government-owned and controlled corporations.

The President can also ask the PAOCC to look into other criminal offenses. EO 46, signed last June 13, defines an organized/syndicated crime group as two or more persons collaborating, confederating or mutually helping one another in the commission of any crime.

“A steadfast, strong-minded and unwavering campaign to eradicate organized crime, along with the graft and corruption it breeds, are among the priorities of this administration,” the President stated in the EO.

“The reorganization and strengthening of the PAOCC is imperative to substantiate and generate results in the fight to eliminate corrupt practices,” he added.

Palace: No problem

Meanwhile, Malacañang welcomed the investigation to be conducted by opposition members of the House of Representatives with regard to President Aquino’s alleged coddling of several of his officials and gave assurance that all of them will face the inquiry squarely.

“The position (welcoming the House resolution) has not changed. Until now, just like what Secretary (Edwin) Lacierda had said, we are open (to such inquiries),” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte told Palace reporters yesterday.

The Palace undersecretary also gave assurances that all officials of the Aquino administration who may be called to the House probe will definitely be around to answer queries from congressmen.

Valte said there would be no Executive Order 464 that would prohibit members of the Cabinet from attending congressional hearings. Arroyo had issued EO 464 at the height of Congress’ investigation on her Cabinet officials during her term.

Opposition lawmakers, led by House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman, have filed a House resolution calling for an investigation on the alleged failure of Aquino to discipline some erring members of his Cabinet.

“We have always been cognizant of the power of Congress to initiate an investigation in aid of legislation. However, our only appeal to the members of the House is do not let themselves be used as tools for mudslinging for political purposes,” Valte appealed.

Lacierda calls House opposition ‘juvenile’

Lacierda said members of the House minority bloc seemed to have nothing better to do now that Congress is on recess than attack close allies of the President, who remains clean and popular until now.

“We thank our allies in the House to rebut the accusations made by the opposition there, the juvenile accusation of the opposition,” Lacierda said in defending Aquino’s key appointees.

He noted a “pattern” in the anti-Aquino propaganda, starting from the erroneous report about the termination of the full scholarship of Arroyo’s three so-called “Bangkang Papel” boys, to purported cronies and many others.

“The criticisms against President Aquino, I think, are far from the criticisms hurled against the former president. President Aquino was elected because people did not want an old system of graft and corruption. They wanted to see change in the leadership. They wanted to see change in governance and reforms. They (House opposition) have no issues against the President so they try to hit other people to stain him,” Lacierda said in Filipino, implying that all of the issues point to one source – the camp of Arroyo.

Lagman hits Palace

But Lagman hit back and scored Malacañang for branding as “character assassination” the House opposition’s move to seek a congressional investigation into President Aquino’s erring officials.

The minority earlier filed House Resolution 1419 seeking to investigate Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Land Transportation Office (LTO) chief Virginia Torres, Local Government Undersecretary Ricardo Puno, and former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) director Ernesto Diokno, among others.

Lagman said Lacierda “again got it all wrong when he labeled as character assassination House Minority Resolution No. 1419 urging for an investigation of errant buddies and cronies of President Aquino.”

He said the conduct of congressional inquiries in aid of legislation is among the constitutional duties of the legislature and has been upheld by the Supreme Court.

“These sacred cows in the President’s arsenal of shooting mates, schoolmates, friend-mates had already committed ‘character suicide’ by their culpable misdeeds and misadventures,” Lagman said.

He said the investigative committee headed by De Lima certainly did not commit character assassination against Puno when it investigated him and recommended the filing of charges in connection with the botched hostage rescue operations in Manila last year.

“Did the fact-finding and investigation panel of the Department of Justice commit character assassination against… Torres when it recommended the institution of charges against her due to her complicity and partiality in the failed Stradcom takeover (of the LTO facilities)?” Lagman said.

“What character assassination was committed against Diokno, who resigned in the wake of scandals rocking BuCor and yet was promised another job by the President?” he said.

He said if the prosecution of political foes for alleged tax evasion is deemed proper, then the investigation of Purisima for reported tax irregularities and conflict of interest should not be considered character assassination.

“The self-serving explanations of these presidential buddies to their patron are insufficient to liberate them from liability and discipline,” Lagman said. – With Paolo Romero

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