MANILA (UPDATE 2) - The House of Representatives wants the budget chief removed amid questions on an alleged P75-billion 'insertion' in the proposed 2019 national budget.
A day before going on Christmas break, the chamber adopted House Resolution No. 2365 urging President Rodrigo Duterte to reconsider the appointment of Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno following Tuesday's question hour.
Authored by House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez, the resolution cited that Diokno was invited to the Question Hour on December 11 to seek clarification regarding issues that beset the 2019 Budget.
The resolution cited that when lawmakers questioned Diokno, "the issues on the augmentation in the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) without the DPWH Secretary’s knowledge and consent remains unresolved.”
The proposed DPWH budget for 2019 was known to have increased to P555 billion after P75 billion was added to the administration-approved P480 billion due to government's need for a higher infrastructure budget.
Diokno maintained that there was nothing anomalous with the budget augmentation and that any changes in a department's budget proposal was part of the process.
But the House resolution asserted that “such insertion, if proven, is illegal and ultra vires (beyond one's authority) for it bypassed the authority of the President, through its line agencies, to submit its proposed budgets for 2019.”
HR No. 2365 also said Diokno failed to explain how a sole proprietorship construction company was able to obtain numerous projects from the government in Sorsogon, amounting to billions of pesos.
The resolution also said there were doubts on the Secretary’s integrity and use of his position in accommodating and merging family with public interest.
No House member objected when the majority moved for the adoption of the resolution.
Suarez, who questioned Diokno about his supposed influence in the allocation of P2.8 billion worth of infrastructure projects in Casiguran, Aurora and Sorsogon in Bicol, said he should resign out of delicadeza.
"Kung ako siya, magreresign na ako (If I were him, I will resign) Delicadeza decides," he said.
He also said Diokno's excuses were not convincing.
"Glaring na glaring naman ito (This is very glaring). You can come up with all your flimsy excuses, but at the end of the day, he’s guilty,” he said.
“Kung ako 'yung isang may hawak ng kapangyarihan at tatakbo yung in-laws nung aking anak, tutulungan ko para manalo (If I were in power and my child's in-laws will run for a political post, I will help them win). Paano mananalo? Bibigyan ko ng projects (How will they win? I'll give them projects). 'Yung lugar na kanilang tatakbuhan (In the area where they will run for office). Para makasigurado, sasabihin ko humanap na kayo ng trusted contractor (To be sure, I'll tell them to look for a trusted contractor). That seems to be the vicious cycle of funding political affairs,” Suarez added.
Diokno’s daughter is married to the son of Sorsogon Vice Governor Ester Hamor and Casiguran Mayor Edwin Hamor.
The budget chief vehemently denied having wielded his influence to benefit his in-laws.
House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr., who also grilled Diokno over the alleged insertion, likewise urged the budget secretary to "spare the President of this embarrassment."
“Huwag na siyang magtago sa saya ng Pangulo (He should not hide behind the President). It is clear that he blind-sided the President on the budget process. The President trusted him; he betrayed that trust. The DBM Secretary must spare the President of this embarrassment. Pronto,” he said.
Asked about mounting calls for his removal, Diokno told DZMM radio: "Siguro 'yun ang gusto nilang mangyari (Maybe that's what they want to happen). But you know, ako naman (me), I serve at the pleasure of the president."
"At saka hindi ba nakakapagtaka naman, tatlong presidente pumili sa akin para sa post na ito (And it's also a wonder. Three presidents chose me for this post). I think that speaks volumes of my integrity and competence," he said.
Before his appointment under the Duterte administration, Diokno also served as the budget chief of former President Joseph Estrada and was also budget undersecretary during the time of the late former President Corazon Aquino.
Malacañang has expressed its continued trust in Diokno.
- with a report from Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News