Dep't of Budget and Management

Who is Lloyd Christopher Lao, Davao boy dragged into controversies?

Jodesz Gavilan
Who is Lloyd Christopher Lao, Davao boy dragged into controversies?

CONTROVERSIAL. Then-DBM undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao in a briefing with President Rodrigo Duterte and other officials in May 2020.

RTVM screenshot

(2nd UPDATE) We first heard of his name in relation to the frigates deal where Bong Go allegedly intervened. During the pandemic, he's being asked to explain why the government purchased pricier face masks and face shields now sitting in depots.

The name Lloyd Christopher Lao has been linked to at least two controversies during the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, the latest being the government’s purchase of allegedly overpriced pandemic items.

But what do we know about him?

Lao obtained his graduate degree from the Ateneo de Davao University, the same university where he taught for a few years prior to passing the Bar Exams in 2005.

He is also a member of Duterte’s fraternity, Lex Talionis Fraternitas, albeit different chapters since the President is a San Beda alumnus.

Several of Lao’s fraternity brothers publicly congratulated him on Facebook upon his appointment as officer-in-charge of the Procurement Service-Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) in January 2020.  

A write-up published upon his appointment as OIC described Lao as a government official “backed up by relevant experience and designations which make him suitable for the post.”

Lao’s first government stint was as researcher and paralegal under a certain “Councilor Calicia,” but he resigned when he became a lawyer. He then applied at the Southern Mindanao arm of the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB), where he worked as an arbiter for a short period.

“Sometimes I get bored, so I left the office…within [a] period of six months and then I entered into private practice,” he said in a Malacañang public briefing last August 20.

Bong Go’s trusted person?

After years in private practice, Lao went back to government service, this time under the Duterte administration full of “Davao boys.” He was also reportedly a “volunteer” election lawyer for Duterte during the campaign period.

Lao was appointed as undersecretary at the Presidential Management Staff–Office of the Special Assistant to the President, then headed by now-senator Bong Go. He was sworn into office in August 2016.  

In a Senate hearing on September 7, Lao said he earned around P70,000 to P100,000 a month as undersecretary in Malacañang.

A Rappler investigation in 2018 found that Lao was one of Go’s most important aides. He reportedly handled confidential investigations concerning presidential appointees.

It was Lao who signed a January 2017 letter inviting Rear Admiral Robert Empedrad to a meeting in Malacañang in relation to the controversial planned purchase of two brand-new frigates for the Philippine Navy. (READ: Bong Go intervenes in P15.5-B project to acquire PH warships)

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In 2017, after a year as undersecretary, Lao resigned and moved to the HLURB as chief executive officer and commissioner, where he had basic income of around P100,000 a month.

A complaint accusing him of extorting from developers of socialized housing was filed with the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission in August 2019, according to documents obtained by Rappler. But Lao said during a Senate blue ribbon committee hearing on August 27, 2021 that he did not know about the complaint.

He left HLURB in August 2017 and transferred to the Procure Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM).

Regarding his ties to Go, which critics claimed boosted his chances of getting prime government positions, Lao said in a public briefing that “in reality, I applied for a job and I got lucky.”

Procurement controversies

Lao became executive director of the PS-DBM in January 2020. The office he led became the go-to for purchases in relation to the government’s coronavirus pandemic response.

His stint, however, was not without controversies, including the purchase of face masks for as high as P27.72 each and face shields for P120 each at the start of the pandemic.

PS-DBM bought more than 115 million pieces of face masks and face shields, but these proved to be difficult to sell to client agencies at the same prices since market prices eventually dropped.

The Commission on Audit (COA) noted in its audit report that, by the end of 2020, some P95 million worth of those face masks and face shields were sitting in depots.

COA also flagged the lack of supporting documents to back up the Department of Health’s transfer of P41 billion to PS-DBM to buy personal protective equipment.

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In 2020, Lao applied for the post of overall deputy ombudsman – the second highest position at the Office of the Ombudsman. He was criticized and accused of wanting to shield his former boss Go from corruption probes.

But before the scheduled interview for the post, Lao withdrew his application. In a Malacañang public briefing on August 20, he said his application was politicized. The sought-after post eventually went to Duterte’s former legal consultant Warren Liong, who also worked under Lao as PS-DBM director.

Lao said in a previous public briefing that he “tendered [his] resignation” in the aftermath of the controversy over his application to become overall Ombudsman. However, a department order dated May 31, 2021, obtained by Rappler shows that he was reassigned to supervise the Department Liaison Office (DLO) under DBM. He took a leave of absence from May 31 to June 30, 2021.

The Senate, on August 18, said it will further probe purchases made by PS-DBM amid the coronavirus pandemic. Senators already requested from the agency documents of transactions which involved Lao. – Rappler.com

(We originally reported that Lao resigned from his post as PS-DBM OIC in June 2020. The article has been updated to say that he was reassigned to DLO under DBM in June 2021. – Editor)

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.