In moving for the issuance of such an order, Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso – a former Court of Appeals justice – said Diokno should be asked to explain why he should not be cited in contempt for repeatedly snubbing the House inquiry.
Boy Santos
House to Benjamin Diokno: Explain absence in budget probe
Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) - January 30, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines —  The House of Representatives appropriations committee yesterday required Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno to explain his continued absence in its inquiry on allegedly questionable budget allocation practices by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

The committee, chaired by Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., voted to issue a show cause order to Diokno after the budget secretary failed to respond to its fourth invitation.

In moving for the issuance of such an order, Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso – a former Court of Appeals justice – said Diokno should be asked to explain why he should not be cited in contempt for repeatedly snubbing the House inquiry.

Veloso said the committee should ignore the statement of presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo that it was President Duterte who directed Diokno not to participate in the probe.

“We have not heard that from the President himself,” Veloso said.

In several media interviews, Diokno claimed that his Malacañang bosses directed him not to show up at the House hearings.

Panelo speculated that such directive must have come from Duterte.

‘Up to Diokno’

Malacañang is leaving it up to Diokno to decide whether to attend the bicameral conference on the 2019 budget. 

“That is the call of Sec. Diokno... Since it’s directed to him, we will wait for his response,” Panelo said at a briefing yesterday. 

Earlier this month, Panelo urged Andaya to cease from waging a media propaganda war against a member of the Cabinet.

Panelo said Diokno may attend the budget deliberation if he feels that the questions to be asked by lawmakers are related to his work.

He said the budget chief could beg to leave if he is asked to answer questions that are not in the list of queries sent to him in advance. 

Panelo said the executive branch would not oppose the show cause order of the House because it is the job of Congress to scrutinize the budget. 

Andaya told his colleagues that Diokno’s repeated refusal to honor the committee’s invitations shows the level of respect the budget chief accords lawmakers and the House as an institution.

The issuance of a show cause order is a step that could lead to Diokno’s arrest. If the appropriations committee is not satisfied with his explanation, it could cite him in contempt and recommend to Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo the issuance of an arrest order.

During yesterday’s hearing, DBM Undersecretary Tina Canda insisted that Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar knew about the P75 billion that was added to his department’s 2019 budget.

Canda said the addition was discussed in a Cabinet meeting before Diokno presented Duterte’s budget proposal to Congress.

She said seven DPWH employees encoded the list of projects supporting the augmentation that brought the agency’s funding level for this year to P555 billion.

Villar has claimed that he came to know of his department’s funding augmentation when the President’s budget proposal was submitted to Congress.

The appropriations committee decided to invite the encoders to its next hearing.

Andaya lamented the continued confusion on the origin of the P75 billion.

“That’s the problem when you have one Cabinet secretary saying one thing and another keeping silent as if nothing is happening,” he said.

He also read a letter from former DPWH secretary Rogelio Singson, in which the latter shared his experience as agency head during the administration of former president Benigno Aquino III.

He quoted Singson as saying dredging projects “are the easiest source of corruption.”

Senate shuns transparent bicam

Senators sitting in the bicameral conference committee on the proposed P3.76-trillion 2019 national budget are opposed to transparent negotiations on the final shape of the proposed outlay.

Although the committee allowed House reporters to attend the initial conference at a Makati private club on Monday, the serious talks in the evening and last night were closed to the media.

The talks focused on how much insertions senators and congressmen have made in the proposed budget and in which agencies these were hidden.

Sen. Loren Legarda and Andaya jointly chair the budget panel.

Andaya said House conferees want a transparent budget conference.

“All amendments to the proposed budget must be discussed in the bicam and must be known to the public. If we don’t see it in the bicam, it’s pork. If we don’t approve it in the bicam, then it’s also pork,” Andaya said.

Some members of the House contingent who did not want to be identified said it’s their Senate counterparts who are against an open, public budget conference.

They said senator-conferees are also against releasing a detailed list of their insertions in the budget for fear that they might be accused of favoritism or conflict of interest.

Andaya said he expects protracted bicam negotiations. He said the House would insist that the Senate name its members who introduced the insertions and ask them to defend these changes.

The bicam panel, Andaya said, has agreed to take out P14 billion for dredging projects in the proposed 2019 budget.

Veloso complained that the nearly P400 million he proposed for the ongoing road projects in his district was not included in the budget proposal.

“These roads will not be finished. And yet the Senate wants P810 million to be appropriated for the celebration of Teachers’ Day,” Veloso said, adding his district will also not get any money for hospitals and state schools.

Slashed

This year’s proposed budget will have zero allocation for dredging of waterways by private contractors that Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon described as “a rich source of corruption.”

The slashing of appropriations for “dredging, desilting or deepening” of waterways and rivers was made during the bicameral conference committee meeting on the 2019 General Appropriations Bill upon the motion of Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Monday night.

“A major amendment is that there will be no budget for dredging because dredging is the rich source of corruption. How can you measure how much cubic meters of mud did you dredge?” Drilon asked.

He said the budget would be used to purchase dredging equipment lodged under the DPWH.

Drilon cited the experience of Iloilo when the provincial government purchased dredging machines five years ago, which are still being used without any additional expenses.

He said from now on, all dredging works would be done by the DPWH.

Lacson said dredging is one of the major sources of corruption in government and it has been allocated tens of billions of pesos annually.  – With Alexis Romero, Paolo Romero          

BENJAMIN DIOKNO DEPARTMENT OF BUDGET AND MANAGEMENT HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
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