By Ben Rosario
Former President and now Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Saturday clarified that the ongoing investigation into alleged irregularities in the preparation of the national budget and links of Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno to highly suspicious multi-billion infrastructure deals is part of the House of Representatives oversight power granted under the Constitution.
This developed as House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez (Lakas- CMD, Quezon) berated Cabinet officials circling embattled Diokno’s wagon for insisting that the Cabinet official deserved “respect” for being a person “with integrity.”
Suarez said Diokno’s defenders, including Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, are not in a position to impose congressmen’s respect for Diokno. “I can only say that respect is earned.
It’s not a privilege,” stressed Suarez.
“It was Secretary Diokno who drew first blood when he said the current House leadership got huge allocations when he, along with former Speaker (Pantaleon) Alvarez and his allies, received much, much more in unexplained budget insertions,” he added.
Arroyo, who has kept an independent stance on the controversy that pitted Suarez and Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. against Diokno, stressed that the Lower House is a collegial body that decides on the basis of a majority consensus.
“So if what the House votes for, what the House makes decisions on, that’s part of their role as a legislature,” she said in an ambush interview in Taguig City on Saturday.
“And what do you call this? Oversight,” she said.
On Wednesday, the House adopted House Resolution No. 2365 urging President Duterte to fire Diokno for allegedly inserting in the proposed 2019 national budget a total P75 billion in additional infrastructure spending without the knowledge of Duterte and the Department of Public Works and Highways.
Diokno was also tagged as the person behind the awarding of at least 30 infrastructure contracts worth over P2.5 billion to a favored contractor in Catanduanes and Sorsogon.
Suarez claimed that Mayor Edwin Hamor of Casiguran, Sorsogon which received huge infrastructure budget, is the in-law of Diokno’s daughter and is believed to have links to C.T. Leoncio Construction and Trading that won a minimum of 30 contracts.
Andaya, on the other hand, said Hamor is the father of Jojo Sicat, husband of Diokno’s daughter. Hamor’s wife, Ester, is the incumbent vice governor of Sorsogon.
Andaya said the House Rules Committee, which he chairs, has yet to commence its formal investigation into the questionable multi-billion allocation by DBM for Sorsogon, but this early pieces of evidence linking Diokno to the awarding of the contracts started to surface.
But not all congressmen are critical of Diokno. Former deputy speaker and Ilocos Sur Rep. Eric Singson said Diokno’s character is unassailable, adding that he is a “man of unquestionable integrity.”
Singson said that in his 34 years as congressman, he has noticed that Diokno is one among the few government officials who are loyal to the country and incorruptible.