By Mary Gleefer F Jalea/Manila Times
A House investigation has found that Aremar Construction Corp, the contractor allegedly favoured by Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, had received P81.1mn in kickbacks as part of bid-rigging schemes.
Casiguran, Sorsogon Mayor Jose Edwin Hamor, said to be the main shareholder of Aremar, faced the probe conducted by the House Committee on Rules led by Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr.
Diokno’s daughter Charlotte, her husband Romeo “Jojo” Sicat Jr and Aremar President Maria Minez Hamor, a daughter of Mayor Hamor, did not attend the inquiry.
The hearing took off from the January 3 public inquiry in Naga City, Camarines Sur, which revealed the use of dummy accounts by Aremar to corner projects in Casiguran, Sorsogon.
The panel presented Landbank deposit slips provided by contractors, indicating P81.1mn deposited to the account name of Aremar. These transactions occurred on May 4, 2018 with a deposited amount of P10.4mn; July 3 with P10.5mn, August 31 with P12.5mn; October 4 with P11.4mn; October 9 with P22.4mn; and November 7 with P13.9mn.
Aremar, incorporated on July 4, 2014, has the following shareholders: Mayor Hamor, Maria Minez Hamor and Sicat Jr., as well as Martin Aber Sicat, Maria Charisma Sicat, and a family friend named Edmon Bautista.
Mayor Hamor, however, distanced himself from the Dioknos. He said he never interacted with the Budget secretary, and that he was not personally close to Sicat Jr, husband of Diokno’s daughter Charlotte.
Sicat Jr is the son of the mayor’s wife, Sorsogon Vice Governor Esther Hamor, in a previous marriage.
“We (Mayor Hamor and Diokno) only talked once at a wedding. I don’t consider him my balae (daughter-in-law’s parent),” Mayor Hamor told inquiry.
“The two children (Martin and Charisma) grew up under my residence. I did not even know about Romeo’s other business. It was Esther who insisted that he be included in the list to meet the required number of incorporators in the business,” Hamor said.
Diokno is caught in the middle of the controversy because Andaya insists that Sicat’s marriage to the Budget chief’s daughter made her a co-owner of Aremar.
But Mayor Hamor said Sicat was only a shareholder “on paper.”
Andaya had accused Diokno of allocating millions of infrastructure projects to Casiguran, Sorsogon, to be taken from the “inserted” P75bn in funds under the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
Diokno allegedly connived with DPWH officials to bypass requirements and oversee anomalous allocations in flood-control projects.
Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) Executive Director Mel Georgie Racela told the panel the council was willing to co-ordinate with the committee, but could not provide the list of transactions of Aremar as the records are kept and maintained by the banks involved. The next inquiry is expected to dig deeper into the issue, and will subpoena the liaison officer of CT Leoncio, a Triple-A contractor that allegedly served as one of Aremar’s dummy accounts.
A day after the Senate deleted the P75bn insertion, officials from the DPWH and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) confirmed its existence and said it was undergoing a vetting process. From a budget ceiling of P480bn granted to the agency, the allocation for the DPWH went up to P555bn, and Diokno was allegedly behind it.
“The additional P75bn was not part of the submission of the DPWH…the vetting process is now being done by our offices including those that were not part of the P480bn. Part of this process is to inform us if (the amount for alleged insertions) was technically needed,” Public Works Undersecretary Maria Cabral told the House Committee on Rules. Undersecretary Tina Rose Marie Canda of the Budget Preparation and Execution Group under the DBM insisted that the DPWH was responsible for encoding the insertion into the budget.
“It seems that people have a hard time telling the truth. They (DPWH) brought the Excel file to the DBM but they keep insisting that they do not know anything about it. They encoded part of the P555bn, it is part of the list,” she said.
Answering the queries of ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio during the committee hearing, Canda also said the
P75bn was likely inserted in the budget between July 11 and July 23, the last day of submission by the DBM of the final budget outlay to Congress.
The Supreme Court has tapped the magistrate who will handle the petition filed by Andaya and several government workers against the DBM to implement the release of the fourth tranche of salary increases under the Salary Standardisation Law.
According to well-places sources of Manila Times in the high court, the case went to Associate Justice Jose Reyes, an appointee of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Reyes granted the plea of the Executive department for the immediate execution, eviction and takeover of the government in the Mile Long Property leased by the Prieto-Rufino family and ordered them to pay back rentals of P1.6bn exclusive of legal interest. Reyes was also one of the justices who issued the temporary restraining order halting the suspension of Makati City Mayor Jejomar Erwin ‘Junjun’ Binay Jr.
On Monday, Andaya asked the high court to compel Secretary Diokno to release the salary hikes.
Diokno had refused to implement the fourth tranche because of Congress’ failure to pass the 2019 budget on time.
Andaya has slammed Diokno, claiming that withholding the release of funds would be tantamount to deprivation of the right to property under the 1987 Constitution.
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