House panel summons Diokno to 2019 budget probe

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 06 2019 05:42 PM | Updated as of Feb 06 2019 05:43 PM

MANILA - The House of Representatives' appropriations committee has issued a subpoena for Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno to appear before the next committee hearing on some P75 billion in alleged insertions in the proposed 2019 budget.

Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso sought to summon the budget chief after Diokno failed to show up for the fifth time at the chamber's hearings. 

Last week, the panel issued a show cause order against Diokno seeking an explanation why he should not be held in contempt for shunning the House inquiry. 

The budget chief is facing questions on the alleged insertion of P75 billion in the proposed 2019 budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways in favor of his in-laws who were working as government contractors in Bicol. He has denied any irregularity in increasing the proposed infrastructure funding. 

In a letter, Diokno said he "did not in any way intend to disrespect the House of Representatives or any of its Committees" and cited prior commitments he had to attend.

"On the contrary, my appearance during the question hour last December 11, 2018 showed my utmost respect to the institution, wherein I sufficiently answered all the issues and concerns raised by the Members of the House of Representatives," he said.

“Nevertheless, I wish to clarify that I was not able to accede to your invitations without a direct order to appear in view of prior scheduled official commitments that can no longer be canceled.”

Diokno last appeared before the House panel during a "Question Hour" on Dec. 10 last year. The next day, the House urged President Rodrigo Duterte to reconsider Diokno's appointment as budget chief amid questions on alleged insertions in the proposed 2019 budget.

Diokno has since said he would skip future House hearings.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rolando Andaya Jr. said no one from Diokno's department showed up for the hearing as they have no personal knowledge about the revelations on how the insertions were allegedly made.

Andaya expressed willingness to talk to the President about Diokno, adding that none of the information lawmakers asked Diokno to submit have reached the chamber, despite the official's commitment. 

At the start of the hearing, Andaya announced that the House panel was ready to ratify the bicameral conference committee report on the 2019 budget on Wednesday. 

Another meeting is scheduled Wednesday night for the signing. Both the House and Senate are expected to have legislative sessions until Friday to approve the budget.

Members of the Senate are also set to hold an all-party caucus on Wednesday to discuss the 2019 budget issue.

Sen. Sonny Angara, however, has openly admitted his lack of interest in attending the bicameral conference committee meeting for the proposed P3.7 trillion 2019 national budget. 

“If the bicam meets and there’s not really... an agreement, there’s no more session on Friday... Medyo nagsawa na ko sa pabalik-balik eh, wala namang nagyayari so sila na lang mag-usap kasi may iba kaming ginagawa dito,” he said.

(If the bicam meets and there’s not really... an agreement, there’s no more session on Friday... I'm tired of going back and forth, nothing happens so they should discuss among themselves because we have other business here.)

Government has been running on a reenacted 2018 budget since the start of the year after lawmakers failed to pass the spending law before the December 31, 2018 deadline.

Deliberations on the proposed 2019 budget was also dragged by Andaya's allegations that Diokno had made the budget insertions.