MANILA - The construction firm owned by the in-laws of Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno cornered P551 million in government projects in Sorsogon and Catanduanes last year, according to House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr.
During the House Committee on Rules’ hearing into the alleged “questionable” practices of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), Andaya said that Aremar Construction Corp. is a “major partner” of alleged favored contractor of the administration, CT Leoncio Trading and Construction.
A document from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) presented by Andaya at the hearing shows that among Aremar Construction’s incorporators are Diokno’s son-in-law Romeo Sicat Jr. and the latter's stepfather, Casiguran Mayor Jose Edwin Hamor.
Andaya also accused Aremar Construction Corp. of using triple A contractors as “dummies” in government biddings. In his estimate, the firm of Diokno’s in-laws got infrastructure projects worth P10 billion in Sorsogon last year, through 8 contractors.
Andaya presented a deposit slip showing the payment of P11.4 million supposedly made by a winning bidder to Aremar Construction.
“Hindi raw totoo ang mga nakapaloob na technical details sa bidding documents. Kailangan lang iyon para makuha ang kontrata. Kapag nakuha ang kontrata, ipapasa na sa winning bidder, usually a triple A contractor, ang kontrata sa local contractor na dikit sa opisyal na nagpalabas ng pondo. May komisyon lamang na tatanggapin ang winning bidder. Moro-moro lang daw ang nangyayari sa bidding. Ang trabaho talaga ng triple A contractors, makuha ang kontrata at ipahiram ang lisensya sa totoong gagawa ng projects. Sa ating kaso, lumalabas na dummy lamang ang CT Leoncio. Ang totoong may-ari ng proyekto ang Aremar construction,” Andaya said.
CT Leoncio’s owner, Consolacion Leoncio, admitted entering into a joint venture agreement with Aremar, but denied knowing the budget secretary personally.
“Maraming contractor sa Pilipinas na gusto makakuha ng trabaho, pero ang Aremar, half a billion pesos. Ano ang reason bakit pinapaboran ang Aremar?” House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez asked.
“Hindi ko po pinaboran. Nag-JV po kami. Joint venture,” Leoncio responded.
“Ang talagang nakakikilala diyan ay 'yung liaison ko na si Francis Clemente. Lumapit lang ang Aremar at sinabi na kung puwede mag-JV kami. Ako naman, ang talagang kausap ko diyan ay 'yung liaison ko po. Kaya sabi ko, wala namang masama, kung makakatulong ako para lumaki ang sales nila, ‘yun lang po,” she added.
CT Leoncio also denies knowing Diokno’s link to Aremar Construction Corp. before entering into the joint venture agreement.
“Nalaman na lang natin through honorable chairman’s privilege speech. Aremar has connection pala kay Diokno. Unfair naman to jump into conclusion na kaya nagka proj si CTL at si JV dahil kay Diokno. Not necessarily true. CTL has been in Bicol region for quite some time, kahit wala pa naman sila Sec. Diokno ay nagjo-join na siya sa bidding processes,” said Atty. Rafael Madrid, CT Leoncio’s legal counsel.
The committee would seek the assistance of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to look into the transactions of CT Leoncio and Aremar Construction Corp.
Also during the hearing, Andaya slammed the P14.5 billion in flood control projects supposedly “inserted” by Diokno to the proposed 2019 budget.
The house majority leader claimed bulk of the projects were allocated to areas, which are not flood-prone.
“Ang nakapagtataka pa, sa P119 bilyon na budget para sa DPWH flood control projects for 2019, P14.5 bilyon ay hindi galing sa regular programming ng DPWH. Kasama ito sa isiningit ng DBM, matapos na ipakita ni Sec. Diokno kay Pangulong Duterte at sa Gabinete ang mga pondong inaprubahan para sa budget ng government agencies sa taong 2019. Idinagdag lang ang 14.5 billion insertions for floo control nang ipi-print na ng DBM ang National Expenditure Program na ipapadala sa Kongreso,” Andaya said.
“May ilang contractors din ang umamin. Ibinulgar nila ang flood control scam na nagyayari ngayon. Sa mga flood control projects daw inilalagay ang “parked funds” dahil walang master plan ang DPWH dito. Sa mga roads and bridges, may priority projects daw ang DPWH kaya mahirap singitan ng mga proyekto. Iyong flood control projects, wala sa menu na ito, kaya madaling isingit pagdating sa NEP,” he added.
“In the proposed 2019 national budget, they discovered that the DBM allocated more than P385 million for infrastructure projects in Casiguran, the hometown of Sec. Diokno’s balae. Interestingly, the P385-million new projects in Casiguran are part again of the Flood Control Program,” Andaya claimed.
But contrary to Andaya’s claim that the flood control projects in Casiguran were “inserted” by the DBM, the district engineer of Sorsogon’s first district told the house panel that they requested for it.
“Yes, hiningi. Nasa NEP (National Expenditure Program) ‘yun. Starting 2016 to 2019,” District Engr. Ignacio Odiaman said.
“Ito kasing section ng Casiguran, bukana ng river, then reclamation, so it consists of river control at the same time seawall,” he added.
DPWH Region 5 Planning Division Chief Malou Lacuna also refuted Andaya, saying they have a master plan for the flood control projects.
Though invited, Sec. Diokno did not appear in Thursday’s hearing. ABS-CBN is still trying to get his side. But he previously denied having a hand in the implementation of government projects. He also denied using influence to favor his in-laws in securing contracts with the government.
Andaya’s allegations against Diokno came after Senator Panfilo Lacson accused his district and that of House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of cornering billions of pesos in pork barrel funds in the proposed 2019 budget.
The committee will summon in the next hearing officials of the Commission on Audit (COA) and CT Leoncio’s liaision officer, Francis Clemente.
“We also have reason to belive that the DBM, has been allocating funds for DPWH flood control projects in utter disregard of existing rules and regulations,” Andaya said.
“Bakit lumulusot sa COA? Part of auditing is looking into circulars and documents submitted,” he added.
Meantime, the government’s plan to implement a cash-based budgeting system this year will no longer push through, according to Andaya.
Among the reasons he cited are the unpaid delivered projects in 2018, amounting to around P30 billion, and the extension of the validity of the 2018 General Appropriations Act, which supposedly disrupt the cash-based budgeting system.
Under the cash-based system, the government may appropriate, bid out, complete and pay projects within a single year.
“Your whole budgeting system na pinagmamalaking mong cash budgeting system is thrown outside the window. First reason, hindi pa nababayarang contractor, where will you get the money? This year. Edi kinain mo na yung budget ng 2019. Pano yung mga bayarin mo sa 2019? So 2020 na yun? Sira na yung program mo. Inextend pa yung life ng 2018 na budget? Another payable this year,” Andaya said.
Meanwhile, he disputed claims that running on a reenacted budget will imperil the salary hike of government workers.
“'Yung budget last year, mas malaki pa nga this year, so 'yung increase sa salary, kayang-kaya. Walang problema kung hindi niya alam pano gawin, tuturuan ko siya kung pano,” Andaya said.
Diokno countered Aandaya, saying the implementation of the cash-based budget system “is still on this year and in 2020 to 2022”.
He said the DBM is consulting with line agencies on the impact of the extension of 2018 budget to the 2019 cash budget.