By Catherine S Valente/Manila Times
President Rodrigo Duterte continues to trust Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, Malacanang has said, amid calls for his ouster over an alleged P75bn “insertion” in the proposed 2019 national budget.
Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo made the statement the day after the House of Representatives adopted the resolution filed by Minority Leader Danilo Suarez, urging Duterte to “reconsider the appointment” of Diokno over the alleged “executive pork insertions.”
“While we respect House Resolution 2365 which urges the Office of the President to reconsider the appointment of Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Benjamin Diokno as an expression of sentiment from a separate branch of the government, we similarly wish to express that the president continues to trust the
Budget Secretary and the confidence reposed on him remains unimpaired,” Panelo said in a statement.
The Palace official noted that Diokno’s record in the government service is “unblemished” to the mind of Duterte and the rest of his Cabinet.
“PRRD (Duterte) considers him as one of the best and brightest in his official family,” Panelo said. “Secretary Diokno’s reputation as an upright, competent and honest public servant stays solid up to this day,” he added.
The House call for Diokno’s termination stemmed from the allegation of Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr that Diokno orchestrated the “insertion” of some P75bn infrastructure fund in the proposed 2019 national budget without the president’s knowledge. Diokno has denied the allegation.
Panelo said Congress, as part of its constitutional duty, has the power to scrutinise the budget and even impose revisions or amendments.
“Should it feel that there was irregularity in the allocation of the budget, it can always correct it apart from having the option of recommending the filing of charges against those they deem are responsible for the transgressions should the same amount to a crime,” Panelo said.
“In the same manner that the president doesn’t tell Congress who it will choose as its officers and how to go about it, we wish that its members return the same courtesy,” he added.
The House is not over with Diokno, who faced grilling during the “question hour” on Tuesday.
The Committee on Rules is set to conduct an investigation early next year into the DBM budget allocations for supposedly questionable infrastructure projects
“The House rules committee will commence investigation on budget anomalies and questionable allocations by the DBM on January 3, 10am, in Naga City,” Andaya said in a statement.
The probe will primarily tackle the billions of pesos of public funds funnelled from the DBM to a single proprietorship contractor, CT Leoncio Construction and Trading “in official transactions of unparalleled proportion.”
Andaya earlier revealed that CT Leoncio, which has alleged ties with Cabinet members, amassed infrastructure projects worth billions of pesos in various provinces this year.
Diokno has strongly denied any connections with CT Leoncio.
Andaya said the committee would subpoena the regional director of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), two district engineers of Sorsogon City and the district engineer of Catanduanes, and the heads of the DPWH bids and awards committee who handled the projects of CT Leoncio.
The rules committee, on a later date, also intends to summon Diokno to continue its pending queries related to the 2018 national budget and proposed 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA).
“I am particularly interested in knowing the total amount of payables that the DBM owes to contractors and suppliers this year. During the question hour (on Tuesday), he disclosed that these payables run to billions of pesos,” Andaya said.
Andaya had disclosed that the DBM released P10bn for infrastructure projects in Sorsogon province under the 2018 budget alone. On top of that, P6bn will be given to the same province next year under the 2019 GAA.
Diokno is also under fire because his daughter’s parents-in-law are running for public office in Sorsogon. His daughter, Charlotte Justine, is married to a certain Romeo “Jojo” Sicat Jr, the son of Sorsogon Vice Gov. Ester Hamor, to previous partner Gerardo Sicat.
Ester is eyeing the mayoral seat of Sorsogon City in 2019. Her husband Mayor Edwin “Boboy” Hamor is seeking re-election in Casiguran, Sorsogon. During the question hour, Diokno said: “I have no knowledge of such projects. I do not know, and I don’t care.”
The DBM on Thursday expressed its full support to Diokno and issued a statement condemning the “flimsy accusations hurled against him in furtherance of a political agenda.”
“He has served under three presidents in the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), and has always upheld the highest standards of integrity, honour and competence in public service,” the Budget department added.
The DBM reiterated that it is the duty of the Executive branch, through the department, to prepare the National Expenditure Programme, while Congress has the constitutional mandate to make amendments, should it deem fit, and ultimately authorise the General Appropriations Act (GAA).
“We urge both Houses of Congress to scrutinise and expedite the passage of the 2019 National Budget for the sake of public interest,” it said.
The Budget department also pointed out that Diokno “has a track record that speaks for itself.”
The DBM noted that in the 2017 Open Budget Survey, the Philippines garnered a score of 67 out of 100, the best in Asia and No 19 in the world.
“More so, under the leadership of Secretary Diokno, underspending has been eliminated,” it said, noting that underspending has been significantly reduced to 3.6% in 2016 and 2.9% in 2017 from as high as 13.3% and 12.8% in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
“In fact, from January to September 2018, spending is above the programme by 2.6%, marking a turnaround in the efficiency and timeliness of government disbursements,” it added.
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