Andaya presses probe of embattled Budget chief Diokno

Benjamin Diokno

BUDGET Secretary Benjamin Diokno has a lot to explain particularly on the issue of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and not the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) being behind the P75-billion insertion in the 2019 national budget.

This is according to Appropriations Chairman Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. whose committee again sent an invitation to Diokno to appear in the congressional inquiry which will resume on Tuesday.

“Recent developments have prompted me to invite anew Sec. Benjamin Diokno as resource person for the next congressional hearing on questionable allocations and anomalous budget practices by the Department of Budget and Management,” Andaya said.

Last Thursday, DPWH Secretary Mark Villar finally confirmed on record that it was Diokno who was behind the P75-billion insertion in the DPWH allocations in the proposed 2019 national budget.

Villar told a multimedia forum that Diokno did not notify the DPWH about the P75 billion that was added to its budget for 2019.

Villar said he came to know about the extra funding when the DBM released the National Expenditure Program (NEP), which President Duterte submitted to the House of Representatives in July 2018.

In addition, the committee was able to obtain a copy of Diokno’s letter to Villar dated June 14, 2018, informing him about the decision of the DBM to cut the DPWH’s proposed budget for 2019 from P652 million to P480 million.

The P480 million, according to Diokno, is the “final budget level to be submitted for Congressional review.”

“With these twin developments, it is time for Sec. Diokno to explain fully his role in the conspiracy that stalled the congressional deliberations of the 2019 budget,” Andaya said.

“Hindi na puwedeng magtago si Sec. Diokno. Kailangan na niyang ipaliwanag sa mambabatas at sa publiko kung ano ang puno’t dulo ng mga insertions sa national budget,” he added.

The House Appropriations Committee gives Diokno the proper forum to explain his side on the issue, Andaya said.

“Marami siyang dapat ipaliwanag. Who was responsible for the choosing the infrastructure projects listed in the P75-billion insertions? Where are these projects located?  Who encoded the projects that were inserted to the official list submitted by DPWH to DBM?” the House leader also said.

As of the second public hearing held last January 15, DPWH Usec. Ma. Catalina Cabral admitted that their department is still in the process of vetting the projects inserted by DBM. “Ibig sabihin, hindi pa sigurado kung kasama ba talaga ang mga proyektong ito sa priority list ng DPWH o kung ghost projects ito,” Andaya said.

The hearings conducted by the House panel on DBM anomalies have also led to the discovery that millions of pesos in DPWH projects eventually found their way to Aremar Construction, a firm partly-owned by Diokno’s son-in-law Romeo Sicat Jr.

According to Andaya, the House panel has in its possession bank deposit slips that show at least P81 million was deposited to the bank account of Aremar Construction by construction firms that won DPWH contracts.