With 2019 budget ratified, House to pursue probe vs Diokno: Andaya

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 09 2019 02:41 PM | Updated as of Feb 09 2019 02:42 PM

MANILA - The House of Representatives will continue its investigation into alleged insertions in the 2019 budget even after its passage, a House leader said Saturday, a day after Congress ratified the national funding law that allegedly contains billions of discretionary funds for lawmakers.

The House Committees on Appropriations and Public Accounts "will conduct joint public hearings" on anomalous insertions allegedly made by Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno into the national budget, House Appropriations Committee chair Rolando Andaya Jr. said in a statement.

"Hindi nagtatapos ang trabaho ng Kongreso sa pagpasa ng budget," he said.

(The job of Congress does not end with passing the budget.)

He said hearings would continue despite the session break. 

"If the good Secretary thinks he can now relax and continue with his illicit activities, he is gravely mistaken. Hindi pa tapos ang pag-iimbistiga namin sa mga anomalyang kinasasangkutan niya (We are not done investigating anomalies he is involved in)," Andaya said. 

"Sisiguruhin namin na bawat sentimong ibinabayad na buwis ng mamamayan ay nagagasta ayon sa tinakda ng batas at desisyon ng Korte Suprema," he said.

(We will make sure that each cent from taxpayers will be spent according to laws and Supreme Court decisions.)

Andaya had accused the budget chief of inserting P75 billion in additional funds to the proposed Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) budget this year and for allegedly favoring relatives for projects in the Bicol region.

Diokno had consistently denied Andaya's allegations and snubbed invitations to appear before the House panel after attending "Question Hour" at the chamber in December. 

In the next few weeks, the House will issue subpoenas for officials from the Department of Budget and Management and the DPWH to appear at the hearing, but would not require the Budget chief to attend, Andaya said.

"There is no need for Diokno to appear as testimonies of witnesses have already shown that he is inutile and a coward," he said.

Andaya had shifted the spotlight on Diokno's alleged budget insertions shortly after Senator Panfilo Lacson revealed that House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's Pampanga district will be getting P2.4-billion worth of projects while P1.9-billion in public funds was allocated for a Camarines Sur representative under the 2019 budget.

Andaya is the first district representative of Camarines Sur.

Pork-laden budget for House members

On Friday, Lacson said the House of Representatives had allocated for themselves P160 million in discretionary or "pork barrel" funds under the just ratified 2019 national budget.

He said the amount came from reallocating the P75-billion insertion. 

"Simply put, the apparent pork insertions from the alleged connivance of the DBM and the old leadership of the House of Representatives were deliberately reallocated by the newly-assumed leadership as their own pork barrel," Lacson said. 

Last year, a district representative revealed that several lawmakers have been "parking" funds or realigning budget allocations to areas beyond their jurisdiction, but Andaya's committee has yet to tackle this. 

The "pork barrel" system in Congress, which was institutionalized through the Priority Development Assistance Fund, was abolished in late 2013 when the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. 

This followed the bust of the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam, where lawmakers allegedly connived with businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles and her associates to divert discretionary funds to bogus non-government organizations, in the end purportedly taking the amounts for themselves. 

Several plunder and graft cases are pending at the Sandiganbayan stemming from the controversy.