House panel begins probe on budget ‘anomalies’

The Philippine Star

THE House on Thursday, January 3, began its probe into the alleged anomalies in the current 2018 budget and the proposed P3.8-trillion budget in 2019 — both of which were prepared under Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno.

The first public hearing was held at the Avenue Plaza Hotel in Naga City, Camarines Sur at 10 a.m.

Among the House members who attended the probe were Majority Leader Rolando Andaya, Jr., Minority Leader Danilo Suarez, Camarines Sur 3rd District Rep. Gabriel Bordado Jr., Senior Deputy Majority Leader and Sagip Rep. Rodante Marcoleta, and Coop Natcco Rep. Anthony Bravo.

Consolacion Leoncio, owner of C.T. Leoncio Construction and Trading, was also present after the House panel issued her a subpoena to appear during the hearing. Leoncio was previously accused by Andaya of cornering billions worth of projects for various agencies across the country.

Andaya is firm in his belief that Diokno and a former Cabinet official now seeking an elected post in 2019 are tied to CT Leoncio. The company cornered a total of 30 projects in 2018 in Sorsogon alone, the province whose vice governor is the mother-in-law of Diokno’s daughter.

Subpoenas were also issued by the rules committee to several Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) officials in the Bicol Region. Engineers Virgilio Eduarte, Danilo Verzola, Ignacio Odiaman, Wilfredo Flores, Larry Reyes, Merla Raveche, Jorge Gorimbao, Victor Azupardo, Gil Augustus Balmadrid, and Noland Claro Guerrero, as well as individuals Malou Lacuna, Renato de Vera, and Dr Elenita Tan were the ones summoned.

Meanwhile, Minority Leader Danilo Suarez, Senior Deputy Majority Leader Rodante Marcoleta, COOP-NATCCO Representative Anthony Bravo, AKO Bicol Representative Alfredo Garbin Jr., were present to grill the resource persons alongside Andaya.

Billions in anomalous allocations?

Andaya and Suarez, before the 17th Congress adjourned session in December 2018, accused Diokno of supposedly using his influence as Department of Budget and Management (DBM) chief to bag billions of pesos in infrastructure projects for Sorsogon and Casiguran, where the mayor is also the father-in-law of Diokno’s daughter.

Andaya is “particularly interested” in the P100 billion worth of unpaid payments that the DBM owes various contractors and suppliers this year. He also quoted Budget Undersecretary Catalina Cabral as saying that the amount of pending payables is at P44 billion for DPWH alone.

According to the Majority Leader, this is worrisome after Diokno admitted “inserting” P75 billion into the DPWH funds for 2019.

Diokno, however, insisted there is nothing anomalous here, as the additional funds were part of the legal budgeting process.

The P10-billion infrastructure projects allocated to Sorsogon in 2018 is also being questioned by Andaya, as well as the P325-million allocation for flood control projects in Casiguran in the proposed 2019 budget.

A resolution was even adopted by the House, urging President Rodrigo Duterte to fire Diokno. Still, Malacañang and other Cabinet officials trust the DBM secretary, who have denied all allegations against him.

Cabinet members are being urged by Malacañang to leave or skip Congress hearings if they feel they are or will be shown “disrespect.”

Andaya said they will no longer force Diokno to attend the House investigation, however, they will still extend an invitation for him to attend.

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