Diokno
File
Budget chief denies links to ‘shady’ contractor
(The Philippine Star) - December 12, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno denied links to the sole unqualified contractor who bagged billions in government projects, even as he admitted there were pork barrel funds amounting to P75 billion under the previous leadership of the House of Representatives. 

“I’m known for my integrity, your honor. I have no relative like that. It’s not my job to allocate resources. To implement projects is not my job. That’s the concern of the line departments,” Diokno told the lawmakers led by House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez during the Question Hour last night. 

Suarez repeatedly asked Diokno if he knew Sorsogon Vice Gov. Esther Hamor, wife of Casiguran Mayor Edwin Hamor. While he issued a blanket denial, Diokno admitted the affinity and claimed issues such as projects are never discussed in family gatherings. 

“Bawal pag usapan sa amin iyan. Absolutely, I have no knowledge about that (projects). I don’t know and I don’t care,” Diokno said. “I have no idea what was released. The DPWH knows that (projects).” 

As it turned out, verifiable reports have it 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 highly reliable sources, are very close to the sole contractor C.T. Leoncio Construction – owned by Consolacion Leoncio – who Suarez said cornered “trillions” in projects when it is not a corporation but just a “sole proprietorship” from Bulacan.

Upon intense grilling from House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. – a former budget secretary himself during the time of former president Gloria Arroyo – Diokno also admitted there were P75-billion “insertions” during the time of ousted speaker Pantaleon Alvarez. 

“Your answers are very, very telling. Thank you very much,” the Camarines Sur lawmaker said, reeling with sarcasm. “And so now you’re saying there was a total of P75 billion in insertions, and not P52 billion as reporter earlier. Thank you very much. 

“Who signs the SARO (special allotment release order)?” asked Andaya. “I do,” Diokno replied. “Yes, but you don’t know where it’s (funds) going?” a smiling Andaya retorted during the Question Hour. 

Andaya also confronted Diokno when the House leadership under Arroyo discovered P52 billion in insertions, as the Cabinet member kept repeating the Office of the President under Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea “decides” where funds should go. 

“He (President Duterte) told me personally that he didn’t know about the insertions,” Diokno disclosed, relating the night he, along with the Speaker and a few others, went to Malacañang to inform Duterte about the multibillion-peso insertions. 

Assurance

Malacañang gave assurance that the Office of the President will not allow any breach in the use of the 2019 budget following reports that a single contractor bagged 30 government projects worth billions of pesos under next year’s budget.

Salvador Panelo, chief legal counsel and presidential spokesperson, maintained that the executive branch respects the independence of Congress and its power of the purse.

But he added it is up to Congress to approve and review the proposed budget.

Panelo said the executive branch will ensure that the people’s money will be used diligently in pushing for building of government projects and implementation of  public services.

“While we respect the separation of powers and independence of the different branches of government, the executive branch, in no unequivocal terms, will not countenance any violation of our laws governing the budget, especially with regard to matters concerning our people’s hard-earned money,” he said.

Panelo added Malacañang appreciates the gesture of Andaya for immediately addressing the issue.

He lauded the congressman for explaining the proposed infrastructure allocation for the second district of Pampanga next year – which has been subject of criticisms in recent weeks.

Andaya had revealed CT Leoncio Construction and Trading had bagged government projects even before Congress approved the P3.75-trillion budget.

Andaya made the expose to dispute claims that the present House leadership under former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo tinkered with the 2019 budget, allegedly favoring some contracts.

Andaya said the large allocations per district were forwarded during the time of former House speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

Senators, for their part, are looking at inserting a special provision in the proposed 2019 national budget that would exempt as much as P770 billion in capital outlay allocations from the election ban in infrastructure projects.

The proposal to include a special provision or for the Senate and the House of Representatives to pass a resolution for the same effect was raised during a closed-door caucus of senators yesterday on the General Appropriations Bill (GAB), which is not likely to be passed and signed into law before yearend.

Economic managers earlier strongly warned on the adverse implications on the economy of the government running on a “reenacted” budget next year as new infrastructure projects cannot be implemented quickly and put a heavy drag on growth.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said his colleagues are generally supportive of the two proposals as even if the GAB would be signed into law in January or February, funding for infrastructure projects would be stalled once the 45-day ban on such expenditures starts owing to the May 2019 national and local elections.

“The problem is that, according to the executive branch, the ‘Build, Build, Build’ will be stalled if the President signs it (budget) in February,” Zubiri said.

“We will have provision to amend the Omnibus Election Code for next year. All the projects to be implemented under capital outlay will be exempted from the election ban,” he said. 

It was not yet clear how much in the GAB will be covered by the possible exemption.

Zubiri said the best the Senate can do is finish the interpellations on the GAB by Friday, the last day of session before lawmakers go on a Christmas break, and approve the money measure on second reading, and third and final reading a few days after Congress resumes session on Jan. 14. – with Paolo Romero, Christina Mendez, Cecille Suerte Felipe

BENJAMIN DIOKNO HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Philstar
  • Latest
  • Trending
Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?
X
Login

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

SIGN IN
or sign in with