No joke from DiokNo
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - December 17, 2018 - 12:00am

When push comes to shove, embattled Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Benjamin Diokno showed he is no pushover. In fact, Diokno pushed and shove back those who tried to skewer him over his imagined connection to an obviously “favored” contractor company that suspiciously cornered infrastructure projects funded in the annual budget of the government. 

Diokno stood his ground to the barrage of queries even if some were not included in the “Question Hour” request sent for him to answer at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City. The DBM Secretary was invited to respond to specific issues raised on the alleged P75-billion “insertion” in the 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA) bill.

The designated hitters led by House majority leader Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya and House minority leader Quezon Province Rep. Danilo Suarez ganged up on Diokno. The DBM Secretary single-handedly parried the salacious innuendos against him and his family’s alleged links with a private contractor that won juicy deals in the government budget.

To his dismay, Diokno found himself being forced to respond to predicated questions that had nothing to do with the submitted list of queries that he prepared for, with supporting documents to enlighten the lawmakers on the matters at hand.

Over the weekend, House Majority Floor Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. stepped up his attacks on the DBM chief. Andaya claimed they have gathered evidence to show at least four infrastructure projects – worth P550 million that have been traced to have links to the in-laws of Diokno – involving joint ventures in Sorsogon between Aremar Construction Corp. and CT Leoncio Construction and Trading. 

Andaya identified Jojo Sicat, the son of Casiguran, Sorsogon Mayor Edwin Hamor, who is married to Diokno’s daughter. Mayor Edwin’s wife Ester is Sorsogon vice governor. Maria Minez Hamor, daughter of Mayor Edwin, owns Aremar. According to documents obtained by the House panel, Andaya disclosed, Aremar entered into these four joint ventures with CT Leoncio, said to be a “favored contractor” as the beneficiaries of the infrastructure projects.

There is deafening silence from the two House members representing the two districts of Sorsogon – Evelina Escudero (NPC) and Deogracias Ramos (PDP-Laban) – about these questioned infrastructure projects in their province.

Earlier, Andaya claimed the CT Leoncio bagged 30 infrastructure projects in various congressional districts funded in the P123-billion fund for flood control projects included in the 2018 GAA. What were strange in these allegations? Andaya identified these projects as funded under the P10-billion budget supposedly allocated by the DBM to Sorsogon but which they themselves in Congress approved in last year’s GAA.

Although the House rules committee has yet to start its formal investigation into these questioned projects, a total of P6 billion has been allotted for Sorsogon for next year in the proposed GAA bill for 2019 that the Lower House approved earlier. But unfortunately, the House budget approval came already too late in the day for the Senate to pass upon it before the 17th Congress adjourned sessions last week.

Ironically, the DBM Secretary’s gallant stand failed to save the day for the proposed 2019 GAA bill as both chambers adjourned for their month-long Christmas break. They failed in their task to approve the budget bill before the end of the current year. Until such time the 17th Congress resumes sessions on Jan. 14, the 2019 GAA bill will likely be approved not any earlier than February.

Thus, the national government will automatically operate under the reenacted 2018 GAA starting day one of 2019.

Before they adjourned last week, the House – in plenary approved a Resolution asking President Rodrigo Duterte in so many words – to fire Diokno from his Cabinet. As already reported, President Duterte thrashed the House call for the ouster of Diokno. The DBM Secretary just laughed off the resignation demand of the House leaders.

Fellow economic managers and Cabinet officials involved in the multi-billion peso “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure projects of the Duterte administration issued joint statements attesting to unsullied reputation and track record of Diokno. Senators, too, led by Panfilo Lacson who was the one that exposed congressional “insertions” in the 2019 GAA bill stood squarely behind Diokno. 

Are the House lawmakers too afraid to confront Lacson on his “insertion” allegations?

Finance Secretary Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez and Education Secretary Leonor Briones individually wrote a letter to President Duterte to vouch for Diokno. Briones recalled how Diokno earned the nickname “Dr. No” when he served as DBM Secretary of former president Joseph Estrada for his consistent refusal and replying “No” to any tainted transactions involving use of public funds.

The latest to add his voice in defense of Diokno was newly appointed Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin Jr. Diokno was then DBM undersecretary when Locsin was then the presidential spokesman during the term of the late president Corazon “Cory” Aquino. @teddyboylocsin, the DFA Secretary posted this in his Twitter account last Saturday, “Ben Diokno has served several administrations since Cory and never a whiff of scandal. No doubt he is tight with public funds but that is why he is picked by presidents and picked on by crooks he frustrates.”

Mind you, all of these were unsolicited testimonies and spontaneously taken by people who believe in Diokno. While these may give him so much pride and comfort, Diokno’s woes are far from over. Saying they “have crossed the line,” Diokno threatened to skip future hearings of the House on these unsubstantiated allegations against him.

“I serve at the pleasure of the President. I was chosen by three presidents…This speaks volume of their trust and confidence in my integrity, honesty and competence. I doubt if you can say the same of those who want me to resign,” Diokno riposted to his House bashers.

It ain’t no joke coming from DiokNo.

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