By Ellson Quismorio
Camarines Sur (1st District) Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. didn’t waste time in tightening the noose on his nemesis Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Benjamin Diokno in his first hearing as House Appropriations Committee chairman on the multi-billion peso “budget insertion” issue.
Andaya on Tuesday carried a motion from Appropriations panel member Leyte (3rd district) Rep. Vicente Veloso to issue a show-cause order for Diokno to explain to the body why he shouldn’t be cited in contempt.
This, after the DBM boss was nowhere to be found in the public hearing where he was considered to be a central figure.
“It is lamentable that the DBM secretary continues to deprive us of the opportunity to question him directly on several issues hounding the DBM. We have provided him the proper forum to clear his name of any wrongdoing. For the nth time, however, he refused to honor the invitation of this committee,” Andaya said.
Diokno is being accused of inserting P75 billion worth of “flood mitigation projects” in Sorsogon under the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in the proposed 2019 national budget. He allegedly had a similar insertion worth P54 billion under the 2018 budget.
Andaya previously led a probe on the supposed insertions in his capacity as House Majority Leader and Rules Committee chairman – positions he relinquished only last week to Capiz (2nd district) Rep. Fredenil Castro.
Should Diokno fail to honor the show-cause order, he would be slapped with a subpoena and in effect become a House detainee.
“The hearings conducted by the House panel on DBM anomalies have also led to the discovery that millions of pesos in DPWH projects eventually found their way to Aremar Construction Corporation, a firm partly-owned by Sec. Diokno’s son-in-law, Romeo Sicat Jr.,” Andaya said.
Sicat is married to Charlotte Justine Diokno Sicat, the DBM secretary’s daughter.
Andaya further highlighted Diokno’s absence in the Tuesday hearing by pointing out that another invited resource person, former DPWH secretary Rogelio Singson, had been “kind enough” to write him a letter to explain his own absence in the proceedings.
Singson said he had an “important appointment” to attend to in Makati City that same morning.
Cash-based budget hit
Citing Singson’s letter where he justified the issuance of Department Order (DO) No.23 during his tenure, Andaya used Singson’s sentiments to further criticize the cash-based nature of the proposed P3.757-trillion budget for 2019.
Under a cash-based budget, government projects and programs must be rushed or shortened to ensure its completion within one year.
“I believe this policy of one-year cash-budgeting will only be more prone to corruption and will result to poor quality national infrastructure projects engaging small, ill-equipped suppliers and contractors or just end up being subcontracted,” Andaya quoted Singson.
In his own words, Andaya said, “[This] is contrary to what Secretary Diokno is saying [that] it is an anti-corruption measure. It is actually a corruption measure.”
“I have been very wary of flood control projects because to me they are the easiest source of corruption at the district and regional level. Because of the cash-based budgeting system, projects including flood control will tend to be below P50 million which stays within the authority of district engineers. District engineers are very vulnerable to political interference,” Singson’s letter read.
Andaya underscored: “This is from the point of view of an implementer of cash-based budgeting…sila yung gumagawa ng project. Hindi po ito from the point of view of a professor who is detached from reality (they are the ones carrying out the projects. This is not from the point of view of a professor who is detached from reality).”