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MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr still does not buy Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno’s assertion that he did not influence the approval of billions of pesos worth of infrastructure projects in Sorsogon for 2018.
Why? Because Andaya said that a whopping P10 billion worth of public works funds was allocated for Sorsogon, the province whose vice governor, Ester Hamor, is the mother-in-law of Diokno’s daughter.
In a statement Saturday, December 15, Andaya said that documents obtained by the House leadership showed that at least P550 million went to contractor Aremar Construction Corporation, owned by Hamor’s daughter.
Andaya claimed that from their initial probe, at least 4 projects were done as a joint venture by Aremar Construction with CT Leoncio Construction and Trading, the contractor that had allegedly “cornered” multi-million projects with the government in the past:
- P49-million highway improvement for Ariman-Casiguran Road
- P96-million construction of Barcelona-Casiguran diversion road
- P115-million tourism road construction leading to Bulusan National Park
- P289-million Daang Maharlika section in the 1st district of Sorsogon
But a look at the 2018 General Appropriations Act would show that the funds alloted for Daang Maharlika under the Sorsogon District Engineering Office are only P25 million for road widening and P43.857 million for off-carriageway improvement.
More funds? On top of that, Sorsogon also got P6 billion worth of allocations under the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in the proposed P3.757-trillion budget for 2019.
“Nais kong ipaalam sa inyo – ‘di namin nasabi kagabi – na ‘yung pinag-uusapan, ‘yung mga bumabagsak na proyekto sa Sorsogon na wala raw alam si Secretary Diokno, ipaaalam ko lang sa inyo, nitong kasalukuyang taon eh champion ang Sorsogon. P10 billion ang bumagsak doon for 2018,” said Andaya on Wednesday, December 12.
(I want to let you know – I wasn’t able to say this last night – that the projects in Sorsogon that Secretary Diokno said he knows nothing about, that actually, Sorsogon was a champion this year. P10 billion went to the province in 2018.)
“And hindi pa nakuntento. P6 billion naman ang nasa budget na nakapaloob doon sa minamadali, doon sa gustong ipasa na kaagad,” said the Majority Leader.
(And it seems that’s not even enough. In the current budget that they want us to hastily pass, P6 billion is allocated for the province.)
Diokno influence? The day before, Diokno was put on the hot seat by House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez, who tried to establish how the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) chief supposedly used his position to ensure that several road and flood control projects in Casiguran and Sorsogon will be approved for the current fiscal year.
Suarez insinuated that Diokno wanted to help Hamor, who is running for Sorsogon City mayor in 2019, as well as her husband Casiguran Mayor Edwin Hamor, who is up for reelection.
Suarez also tried to connect Diokno to CT Leoncio Construction and Trading, the Bulacan-based single proprietorship which has allegedly bagged billions of pesos worth of contracts nationwide since 2017.
Diokno said he had nothing to do with these, arguing that it is ultimately up to the DPWH to decide how much money will go to each specific infrastructure project. He also said he has never discussed any government transaction with his daughter.
Andaya, who got into a heated discussion with Diokno over another P75-billion “insertion” in the 2019 DPWH budget, thinks the DBM secretary is lying.
“Tingin ko ‘di kapani-paniwala (I don’t think he’s believable),” said Andaya.
He added that he has already spoken to some senators who are eyeing a joint congressional investigation into all the anomalies the House discovered in the 2018 and 2019 budgets.
The House already agreed to issue a subpoena against the owner of CT Leoncio Construction and Trading, DPWH regional directors, district engineering officers, and officials of the Commission on Audit who are in charge of the projects concerned.
Malacañang, however, maintains Diokno is a “man of integrity.” – with reports from Aika Rey/Rappler.com