Diokno's in-laws behind firm that bagged big gov't projects – Andaya

MANILA, Philippines – The construction firm that cornered P550 million worth of infrastructure projects in Sorsogon and Catanduanes in 2018 alone is being run by in-laws of Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr said on Thursday, January 3.

Andaya disclosed the link during the congressional probe into the alleged budget anomalies in the current 2018 and the proposed P3.757-trillion budget for 2019, both prepared under Diokno.

Two construction firms are involved.

One is Bulacan-based C.T. Leoncio Construction and Trading, the firm owned by Consolacion Leoncio that allegedly bagged billions worth of projects for various agencies nationwide since 2017. For this year, Andaya said CT Leoncio bagged a total of 36 projects in Sorsogon and Catanduanes worth P1.6 billion. 

CT Leoncio remains a single proprietorship, but it was only in 2017 when Philippine Contractors Accreditation Board recognized it as a "Triple A" contractor.

The second firm is the Aremar Construction based in Casiguran, Sorsogon,  CT Leoncio’s major partner for 5 construction projects in the Bicol region amounting to P550,799,888.83.

What’s the Diokno connection? Andaya said the biggest stockholder of Aremar Construction is Casiguran Mayor Edwin Hamor, the husband of Sorsogon Vice Governor Ester Hamor.

The Vice Governor's son from a previous marriage, Romeo Sicat Jr,  is married to Diokno's daughter Charlotte Justine.

The House Majority leader called this a clear case of conflict of interest. 

“As the legal wife of Romeo Sicat Jr, Charlotte Diokno will be considered as a co-owner of what Romeo Sicat owns in Aremar Constuction. [This is a] clear case of conflict of interest,” said Andaya.

“It is also clear that the Hamor couple are in-laws of Sec Diokno. Sa Tagalog, balae. Ayaw aminin ni Sec. Diokno, malinaw ang relasyon niya sa mga Hamor (In Tagalog, in-laws. Sec Diokno does not want to admit it, but his relationship with the Hamors is clear),” he added.

Diokno already denied using his influence as DBM chief to help corner contracts for the province where his in-laws are elected offiicials. He said that he and his daughter never discuss government projects at home, a claim that Andaya did not believe. 

Did flood control funds go to the right areas? Andaya believed he finally established the link between the alleged questionable projects in Sorsogon and Diokno.

Andaya previously said that a whopping P10 billion worth of funds under the Department of Public Works and Highways was allocated to Sorsogon in 2019. On top of that, Sorsogon also got P6 billion worth of infrastructure allocations under the proposed 2019 budget. 

On Thursday, Andaya said the panel also discovered that the DBM allocated more than P385 million for public works projects in Casiguran. (READ: Andaya hits P325-M flood control projects in Casiguran, Sorsogon)

“Sa totoo lang po wala sanang problema kung bahain ng isang pondo ang isang lugar.... Ang problema, ‘di po napupunta ang pondo sa talagang kailangang malagyan,” said Andaya.

(Honestly, there would be no problem if funds inundate one area.... But the problem is the money does not go to where it's supposed to be allocated.) 

He slammed the DBM for allocating huge funds for flood control projects in areas that 3 studies did not identify as severely vulnerable to flooding. Andaya cited the Japan International Corporation Agency’s "March 2018 Study on the Nationwide Flood Risk Assessment and Flood Mitigation Plan for the Selected Areas in the Republic of the Philippines," the World Bank’s 2010 study “Philippines: Reducing Vulnerability to Flooding in Metro Manila,” and Project Noah. 

“Take Matnog for instance. Last week, it was flooded. Yet despite its vulnerability to flood, Matnog did not get a single centavo in the billions of projects allocated by DBM for flood cntrol projects in Sorsogon for the 2019 NEP,” said Andaya.

Matnog is also in Sorsogon.

How did Leoncio and Hamor respond? The CT Leoncio owner, whom the House panel subpoenaed to the hearing, told lawmakers that she did not personally know about the technical aspects of the bidding processes that her firm enters into.

Leoncio, who introduced herself to lawmakers as a 70-year-old woman with disability, said she trusted her executives and staff members in-charge to be on top of all the details of contracts her firm entered into. 

“Tiwala po ako. Kasi po ang policy ko po sa aming opisina, walang ipapaasok na dokumento na hindi totoo. ‘Yan po ang pinaka-policy ko po (I trust them. My policy in the office is that we will not make use of false documents. That’s my primary policy),” said Leoncio. 

Andaya did not further press Leoncio but advised her lawyer to ensure his clients spoke only the truth.

Leoncio later said during the hearing that she was not personally acquainted with the Hamors. Her liaison, Francis Clemente, was the one who coordinated with Aremar Construction.

After hearing this, Andaya warned Leoncio: "Siguro dapat kayong makipag-usap sa liaison officer 'nyo. Marami kayong alam sa mga nangyayari.... Baka ituro ho kayo bigla ho at sabihin na lahat ng ito ay alam ninyo (Maybe you should talk to yor liaison officer. You don't know a lot of things that are happening.... He might say later on that you are aware of all of these.)

The Hamors were not invited to Thursday’s hearing. Edwin Hamor had earlier denied he had benefitted from the infrastructure projects in Casiguran and Sorsogon.

“Nadamay lang ako dahil sabi ko nga, naging balae ng asawa ko si Secretary Diokno (May name got involved because as I said, Secretary Diokno became an in-law of my wife),” Hamor told GMA News on December 14. 

He had also denied having any links with C.T. Leoncio.

Andaya, however, pointed out during Thursday's hearing that Hamor failed to say that he is a stockholder of Aremar. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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