Palace clears Ochoa on midnight deal

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Malacañang on Tuesday clarified that the alleged midnight deal involving Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. and his brother-in-law has been terminated.

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“It’s been cancelled,” Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said, referring to the Arroyo administration’s lease of 2,000 hectares of forest land and beach-front property in Busuanga town, Palawan province to Philippine Forest Corp. (Philforest) owned by Ochoa’s brother-in-law.

Reports revealed that former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed Presidential Proclamation No. 2057 on May 7, 2010—three days before the general elections— that authorized Philforest to develop the Busuanga lands.

The Palace official, however, said that the Economic Productivity Out of Idle Lands (EPIL) Agreement had long been cancelled when the developer seemed to have abandoned the project.

“When the President assumed office, nakita na iyong kontratang ito at, it being a contract, government cannot unilaterally rescind without cause. So ‘nung nagkaroon po sila ng hindi mga pag-ayon doon sa mga terms ng agreement, their attention was called, and when they did not comply, the EPIL Agreement was terminated,” she explained

“So I understand that the meat of the allegations was that undue benefit was given to someone who is related to the Executive Secretary,” she added

The Palace official showed a letter dated December 9, 2011 and signed by Philforest president Erwin Krishna Santos informing San Jose Builders president Felicisimo Isidoro that the EPIL agreement was being terminated.

The letter said that “no activities and improvements are found in your leased area from the November 17, 2009 to the present constituting abandonment of the project.”

It also cited Section E (2) (g) of the agreement saying that Philforest “shall terminate the agreement in case of abandonment or failure to exercise the privilege granted within the prescribed period of six months from the effectivity of the agreement without justifiable cause.”

“In view thereof and invoking the above provision, notice is formally given informing you that the Economic Productivity Out of Idle Lands (EPIL) Agreement above-mentioned is now considered effectively terminated 60 days after receipt of this notice, for all intents and purposes,” it added.

“The facts will bear it out that the EPIL was given in 2009, in November of 2009. When they did not comply, the EPIL Agreement was terminated. And if I understand it correctly, not just to this particular firm, but to nine other firms that were involved in the same situation. So I invite you to look at the document, look at the date, and when this had taken place,” Valte added.

Whistle-blower Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada, a former Philforest president, accused President Benigno Aquino 3rd of turning a “blind eye” to the “midnight deals” of his executive secretary.

The Palace official defended the President, stressing that Lozada may have a motive for turning up with the latest accusation against Ochoa.

“Well, I think, at this juncture it’s obvious. Because when he met with the President, there was a pending case against him because, apparently, during his stint as PhilForest president, he had it in his power to grant a lease to certain individuals, and he is alleged to have granted one to his brother-in-law, that is why there is—there are charges that are pressed against him,” she said

“So, it’s very simple, if he went to the President and he asked for help and help was not given, assistance, the way that he wanted was not given, then this is obvious where he is coming from,” she added. CATHERINE S. VALENTE

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