January 05, 2019
Benjamin Diokno

Budget chief, daughter, in-laws called to hearing on alleged flood control scam.

THE chairman of the House Committee on Rules yesterday summoned Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, his daughter, in-laws, son-in law and other owners of the Aremar Construction as resource persons during this week’s hearing to shed light on the alleged multibillion-peso flood control scam.

House Majority Leader and Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando “Nonoy” Andaya Jr., the panel chairman, ordered his committee to send formal invitation to Diokno, and Aremar Construction owners led by Casiguran Mayor Edwin Hamor, reportedly the biggest stockholder in Aremar; company president Maria Minez Hamor; Martin Aber Sicat; Maria Charisma Sicat; Romeo “Jojo” Sicat, Jr.; and Edmon Bautista.

“We will also invite Romeo Sicat’s wife, Charlotte Justin, who is a daughter of Sec. Diokno. We also expect the presence of Mayor Hamor’s wife, Esther, who is vice governor of Sorsogon province,” said Andaya whose committee will decide this Monday the schedule of the hearing this week.

Mayor Hamor is the husband of Sorsogon Vice Gov. Hamor. Romeo Sicat Jr., Diokno’s son-in-law, is the son of Vice Gov. Hamor with previous partner Gerardo Sicat.

The Andaya panel has been eyeing possible plunder and tax evasion charges against the owners of the Aremar Construction.

Andaya said his panel took custody of more than P50 million worth of an alleged deposit slips to Aremar Construction by two big-time or triple A construction companies which allegedly acted as “dummies” of the controversial firm.

Responding to Andaya’s claim, Ryan Filgueras, Mayor Hamor’s lawyer, said the House Majority Leader should stop “employing scare tactics” by threatening to file a plunder case against a construction firm owned by Hamor’s daughter.

“Aremar Construction is not owned by Esther Hamor, the in-law of Diokno. She does not own even a single share of stock,” Filgueras said, explaining Hamor’s daughter Maria, who is the mayor’s child out of wedlock before he married Esther, owns Aremar.

“It seems that the good congressman is trying to employ scare tactics on my client who has not committed anything wrong except that he has an accidental relation by affinity to his real target – Sec. Ben Diokno,” said Filgueras.

Filgueras squarely rejected Andaya’s claim that a crime has been committed by saying that the House Committee on Rules is in possession of bank transaction receipts showing that Aremar allegedly received more than P50 million as share in flood control projects for Casiguran by reportedly using triple A contractors as dummies.

“The use of ‘dummies,’ assuming its true, is not a predicate crime of plunder because there is no malversation of funds, no acceptance of a bribe by a government official, no misappropriation of government assets, no establishment of a monopoly and no taking advantage of official position,” said Filgueras.

“In fact, the use of dummies in bidding for public works projects, if true, is not even a crime. There is no law punishing it. If at all, it will subject the contractor who allowed himself to be used as a supposed dummy to the administrative penalty of one year suspension of his license. And assuming, arguendo, that what he is saying is true, then the triple A contractors should also be included in the charge of plunder as a co-conspirator,” he said.

Andaya assured Diokno and owners of Aremar of a fair investigation and ample time to air their positions.

“I can assure those invited as resource persons that the House rules committee will allow them to speak freely so they can clarify the issues linking them to the flood control scam. As they will be confronted with evidence presented during the previous hearing, I advise the invited resource persons to bring with them documentary evidence that will back up their statements,” said Andaya.

“The House investigation will be greatly aided if the Dioknos, the Hamors and the Sicats can provide us copies of their BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue) tax payments, incorporation papers, divestment documents and Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN), among others,” said Andaya.

“Partikular na gusto kong malaman kung inilista ni Charlotte Justin Diokno-Sicat, bilang UP professor, sa kanyang SALN ang share ng asawa niyang si Jojo sa Aremar Construction. Walang dapat ikatakot ang mga pamilyang ito. Malalaman natin ang katotohanan, kung talagang inosente sila, batay sa mga dokumentong isa-submit nila sa committee,” Andaya pointed out.

Andaya appealed to “let us stop hiding the truth using technicalities and general denials. The issues are specific.”

“Multi-billion peso flood control programs which did not pass thru the legal process for selection were inserted into the national budget without the knowledge of (Public Works and Highways) Sec. (Mark) Villar,” Andaya alleged.

“Aremar Construction, which is owned by the in-laws of Sec. Diokno, cornered billions of pesos worth of projects in Sorsogon using dummy corporations. At least P70 million worth of kickbacks were deposited to the bank account of Aremar by their dummy contractors. Proof: five deposit slips of different dates and different construction firms,” Andaya stressed.

“Deposit slip clearly indicates that these are proceeds from DPWH contracts, none of which Aremar won through bidding. These are the facts confronting Sec. Diokno. He and his family members must explain these to the committee and to the Filipino people,” Andaya added.

To validate the authenticity of the documents, Andaya ordered the issuance of subpoena for the Anti Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to bring all the bank transactions of Aremar Construction.
Earlier, Diokno vehemently denied any irregularity, including allegations that he favored his in-laws, their hometown and their province.