Andaya tags Diokno in alleged flood scam 'conspiracy'
MANILA, Philippines – House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr accused Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno of colluding with a senior official from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in the so-called flood control projects scam.
Diokno promptly denied Andaya's "imagined schemes," and said the system now is "transparent and rules-based" unlike during Andaya's time as budget secretary.
The House leader continued his attacks against the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) chief on Sunday, January 6, two days after Andaya led a probe into the alleged budget anomalies in Sorsogon, where Diokno's in-laws are elected officials.
"The public hearing in Naga has raised more questions than answers. The testimonies given under oath by those subpoenaed indicate a top-level conspiracy in the multibillion-peso flood control scam that may involve ranking officials of government. At the very least, the testimonies and evidence point to DBM Secretary Benjamin Diokno in conspiracy with a senior DPWH official," said Andaya.
The Camarines Sur 1st District representative, however, did not name the senior DPWH official yet.
The House committee on rules chaired by Andaya is investigating how Aremar Construction allegedly used at least 8 dummy contractors to bag big government projects in Sorsogon. (READ: Contractor not aware Diokno’s in-laws behind partner firm – lawyer)
The biggest stockholder of Aremar Construction is Casiguran, Sorsogon Mayor Edwin Hamor, while one of the firm's incorporators is Romeo Sicat Jr, husband of Diokno’s daughter, Charlotte Justin Diokno Sicat. Edwin Hamor is married to Sorsogon Vice Governor Esther Hamor, who bore Sicat from a previous marriage.
Edwin Hamor is seeking reelection in 2019, while Esther Hamor is running for Sorsogon City mayor.
The House panel is already exploring possible tax evasion and plunder charges against Diokno's in-laws, whom the committee plans to invite to the next hearing along with the DBM chief himself. (READ: Andaya seeks AMLC help in probe of firms linked to Diokno's in-laws)
Diokno has repeatedly denied Andaya's accusations against him, calling the Majority Leader's latest slew of allegations as "illusory," "wrong," and "not grounded on facts."
Department order ignored?
Andaya said testimonies from DPWH's regional and district offices in Bicol showed that top officals are "ignoring" Department Order (DO) No. 23, which sets strict requirements for flood control projects.
"May nag-uutos galing sa taas na i-shortcut ang proseso sa flood control projects. Hindi dumadaan ang request ng district offices sa regional offices as required by DO 23. Diretso ang utos sa district engineers. Para maiwasan ang paper trail, no written orders or instructions. Viber messages lang," said Andaya.
(Someone from the top is ordered to shortcut the process in flood control projects. The requests of the district offices do not pass through the regional offices as required by DO 23. They go straight to the district engineers. To avoid a paper trail, no written or instructions are made. They use Viber messages only.)
"Whoever is downloading these instructions to the DPWH district engineers is possibly the one in cahoots with Sec. Diokno. These flood control projects submitted by the district engineers are then used to come up with a list of projects for approval by Sec. Diokno," said Andaya, who warned those liable will be identified in the next hearing.
The rules committee will also subpoena the following senior DPWH officials to attend the next hearing, but a date has not been finalized yet:
- Undersecretary for Planning and Public-Private Partnership Maria Catalina Cabral
- Senior Undersecretary for regional operations in Luzon Rafael "Pye" Yabut
- Flood control management cluster project director Patrick Gatan
The House committee will also issue a subpoena decus tecum for DPWH official documents and transaction records related to flood control projects implemented from 2017 to 2018.
Andaya's 'imagined schemes'
Diokno, however, said Andaya's latest accusation is "false news." He also turned the tables on Andaya, who was DBM secretary during the presidency of Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
"Where is he getting all these imagined schemes? The process is well-defined," Diokno said in a text message to Rappler on Sunday.
The DBM chief said the law mandates that all government contracts go through open, competitive bidding. He explained that funds for all programs and projects listed in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) – the proposed budget as approved Congress – are released automatically once the GAA is signed into law.
"This is a new rule as opposed to the old regime when Andaya was budget secretary, when he exercised discretion on how much to release and to whom to release. His world was different. Now, it's transparent and rules-based," Diokno said. – Rappler.com