Bicam agrees to remove funds for dredging projects in 2019 budget

MANILA, Philippines – Lawmakers in the bicameral conference committee on the proposed P3.757-trillion national budget for 2019 agreed to remove all allocations for dredging projects in a bid to lessen sources of corruption.

Bicam member and House committee on appropriations chairperson Rolando Andaya Jr announced this during a hearing on the alleged budget anomalies on Tuesday, January 29.

"As of last night, all dredging projects in the 2019 budget have been deleted. Wala na po 'yan ngayon (They're gone)," said the Camarines Sur 1st District representative.

This was confirmed to Rappler by another lawmaker who is a member of the bicam, saying both the House and Senate contingents agreed to this amendment in the proposed budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) because dredging projects tend to be a source of corruption.

"Kasi milking cow 'yung dredging (Because dredging projects are being used as milking cows)," said the lawmaker.

Both the source and Senator Franklin Drilon said it was Senator Panfilo Lacson who proposed the amendment during their meeting on Monday night, January 28. 

Drilon explained that dredging contracts with private contractors "are the biggest sources of corruption, and the preferred insertions in the budget by legislators." He said funding for dredging projects often reaches billions of pesos.

With the approved amendment, Drilon said dredging projects will now be done "in-house" by the DPWH.

"Citing what I did for the Iloilo River, Senator Lacson moved that all of the amounts allocated for dredging be used for the purchase of dredging machines. This was adopted by the bicam," said Drilon.

The P555-billion budget allotted for the DPWH in 2019 has been hounded by anomalies, after Andaya accused Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno of allegedly "inserting" up to P75 billion in the agency's budget.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) chief, however, already argued that the P75 billion was meant to augment the DPWH's budget. He said the additional funds are also aboveboard, as it was part of the budgeting process.  

Andaya has also linked the Cabinet official to Aremar Construction, a firm supposedly using dummy contractors to corner big-ticket government projects in Sorsogon.

The biggest stockholder of Aremar Construction is Casiguran Mayor Edwin Hamor, married to Sorsogon Vice Governor Esther Hamor – whose son from a previous marriage, Romeo Sicat Jr, is an incorporator of Aremar Construction.

Sicat is the husband of Diokno's daughter, Charlotte Justine Diokno Sicat. 

Diokno has denied all allegations against him, but has so far refused to attend House hearings on the so-called anomalies. Andaya's panel already agreed to issue a show cause order to Diokno to make him explain why he should not be cited in contempt for skipping the hearings. – Rappler.com

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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