The House of Representatives has adopted a resolution calling on President Rodrigo Duterte to reconsider the appointment of Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno in light of the controversies hounding the budget process under his watch.
The resolution was filed by House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez on Wednesday as he urged Diokno to resign.
“If I were [Secretary Diokno] I will resign,” Suarez said at a news conference, saying Diokno’s series of denials during question hour last Monday “raises more questions.”
“The interpellation brought out several salient findings, such as disproportionate budget allocation for the infrastructure projects in Sorsogon. These projects consist of construction of roads, flood mitigation structures, and access roads. Coincidentally or not, almost 90 percent of these projects were awarded to one construction firm,” Suarez said. “However, this construction firm is actually a sole proprietorship based in Bulacan—a single proprietorship, meaning a single person owns the whole company.”
“What makes it more questionable is that the projects are worth roughly P3.5 billion in total. In a province with 790,000 population and a 2,000-square-kilometer area, that this amount is incommensurate. Moreover, it is highly unlikely that a single proprietor construction company in Bulacan be awarded with projects worth billions. Usually, such projects are awarded to triple A contractors,” Suarez added.
Suarez said his group would stand firm for a transparent and factual budget.
“It is relevant to note that 2019 is an election year. This highlights the importance of scrutinizing the budget to ensure that irregular and dubious insertions in the budget will not be included.”
House Majority Floor Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. likewise accused Diokno of betraying President Duterte by allegedly manipulating the budget process by inserting P75 billion in the proposed 2019 P3.757-trillion national budget.
At the same time, Andaya and Suarez said Diokno has becoming a liability to the President and his Cabinet; and that his resignation is timely.
“It is clear that he blindsided the President on the budget process. The President trusted him; he betrayed that trust. The DBM secretary must spare the President this embarrassment. Pronto,” Andaya said at a news conference.
Andaya made the call after the House took Diokno to a question hour Tuesday where he was made to admit to the P7 billion in insertions during the time of ousted Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.
Andaya also said Diokno allocated P10 billion under the 2018 national budget and another P6 billion in next year’s national budget to the province of the politician in-laws of his daughter in Sorsogon.
Reports said that Diokno’s daughter Charlotte Justine is married to Romeo Sicat Jr. who happens to be the son of Esther Hamor in her first marriage to a certain Gerardo Sicat.
The Hamors, according to sources, are very close to the sole contractor C.T. Leoncio Construction and Trading owned by Consolacion Leoncio, who Andaya claimed to have allegedly cornered huge projects in supposed connivance with some DBM officials.
“Secretary Diokno admitted the relationship with husband-and-wife, Casiguran Mayor Edwin Hamor and Sorsogon Vice Governor Ester Hamor. What is strange is that Secretary said he did not know his in-law was running for mayor in the 2019 elections,” Andaya added in a mix of English and Fiipino.
“What is also unbelievable, Secretary Diokno has no inkling that the DBM allocated and released P10 billion in infrastructure projects for Sorsogon province just for the 2018 budget alone. Next year, P6 billion will be given to Sorsogon. He says he did not know that these amounts were in the National Expenditure Program prepared by the DBM. P10 billion this year and P6 billion next year, but the Budget secretary didn’t know?” Andaya said.
Andaya said the contractor was not a corporation and just a “sole proprietorship” or a “sari-sari store” from Bulacan.
In a television interview over GMA’s 7 morning program Unang Hirit, Consolacion Leoncio, the owner of CT Leoncio Construction and Trading, denied the alleged irregularities.
On Tuesday, Catanduanes Rep. Cesar Sarmiento on Tuesday reacted to Andaya’s privilege speech Tuesday citing the budgetary allocation for the lone district of Catanduanes as being the recipient of a huge public works project that the province may not need.
Sarmiento said there was nothing wrong with the allocation for the province which was around P1.5 billion, more or less, every year since he was a congressperson in 2010.
“The P1.6-billion budget, as mentioned by the majority leader, is a regular budget allocation, nothing was added. That is in the National Expenditure Program,” Sarmiento told reporters.
Sarmiento also debunked the statement that Catanduanes does not need a flood control project.
Rep. Deogracias Ramos of Sorsogon’s 2nd District, meanwhile, said there is a need for more funding to control flooding.
Ramos and Sarmiento was mentioned by Andaya in a privilege speech questioning the alleged misplaced budgetary allocations prepared by the Department of Budget for the congressional districts of both lawmakers.
Ramos shared Sarmiento’s view that they have been put in bad light by Andaya’s allegations.
“We have no part in the preparation of the NEP,” Ramos said even as he underscored the need for more budget to bring Sorsogon out of the list of 10 poorest provinces in the country.
Malacañang on Wednesday said it would investigate the alleged irregularity in the award of multi-billion peso contacts to a single construction company, and the alleged P75 billion insertion by the Department of Budget in the proposed budget.
Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo said that if there is any proof of irregularity in the award of billion-peso contracts to a single firm, there should be an investigation first and there will be no sacred cows.
We have to investigate first. We do not even know if it’s true or nor because there have been denials. We will go to the bottom of this,” Panelo said in a Palace briefing.
Despite the allegations against Diokno, Panelo said the Budget chief retained the President’s trust and confidence.
He said that Diokno is known to be “Mr. No,” meaning he is a man of integrity.
“Diokno has already denied any involvement or any link. But let me repeat what we have said repeatedly: This President is no respecter of friendship, of alliances, of party affiliations, of friendship. His principle is you follow the law; you violate it, you will account for it. You engage in corruption, then you will be fired,” he said.
On Tuesday evening, Senator Panfilo Lacson said at least P9 billion in pork lump sums would be available for “urgent” items in the proposed 2019 national budget.
The P9 billion represents the increase in the Assistance to Local Government Unit (ALGU), after the proposed national budget went through the House of Representatives.
“Maybe we can re-align this P9 billion to other items in the budget,” Lacson said during budget hearings for the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
He pointed out the DILG did not propose the additional P9 billion for the ALGU, nor did it have a role in evaluating it.
During his interpellation of the general principles of the budget last week, Lacson noted the ALGU ballooned from P7 billion in the National Expenditure Program—the version of the 2019 budget that Malacañang submitted to Congress—to P16.08 billion after it passed through the House of Representatives.
When he asked Senate finance chairperson Loren Legarda if the Department of Budget and Management was consulted about the P9 billion increase, Legarda said, “I don’t think so”—prompting Lacson to ask, “Would it not constitute grave abuse of discretion?”
Lacson also pointed out the DILG does not have a list of municipalities or towns that will benefit from this amount.
When DILG budget sponsor Senator JV Ejercito affirmed that the DILG does not manage the amount, Lacson said they should “make available” the P9 billion in extra appropriations for realignment.
Senate leaders on Wednesday said the proposed 2019 national budget could not be passed within the year even if President Duterte calls for special sessions.
“Even if we are called to a special session next week, we don’t have enough time for amendments and more so for a bicam,” Senate President Vicente Sotto III said in a text message to reporters.
Congress will adjourn for its December break this week and will resume sessions on Jan. 14.
At this point, it’s really January, with or without a special session,” he added. With PNA
READ: House leader vents ire on Diokno over pork insertions in new budget