MANILA - Malacañang on Tuesday said President Rodrigo Duterte was the one who most likely told Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno to skip a House probe into alleged anomalies in the preparation of the proposed 2019 national budget.
Diokno earlier said he was “not allowed” to attend the House probe into the alleged insertions and other supposed anomalies in the proposed 2019 budget.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Duterte “presumably” was the one who ordered Diokno to snub the probe, which will resume on January 3, 2019 in Naga City.
“There is only one who cannot make him go there, it's the President. So presumably, it's coming from the President,” Panelo said in a Palace press briefing.
Asked what could be the basis of such order, Panelo said, “[it] would be the rude treatment he has received.”
“We are not questioning the authority to question Mr. Diokno. What were were complaining against was the manner by which the question hour was conducted. He was mocked in that question hour,” he said.
Diokno earlier said he would instead send a written report to answer further questions of lawmakers on the budget, noting that House members have been "disrespectful."
Diokno was invited by the House on Dec. 11 to clarify the P75 billion “insertion” in the 2019 budget, as well as the budget department’s alleged favoring of two contractors - CT Leoncio Construction and Trading and Aremar Construction.
Lawmakers identified as allies of former president and now Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took turns in grilling Diokno, who was also budget secretary of ousted president Joseph Estrada.
A day after the question hour, the House of Representatives urged President Rodrigo Duterte to reconsider Diokno’s appointment.
The Palace has ignored the House’s call and said the President continues to trust the budget chief.
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 in 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.”
Diokno stressed that the augmentation of the DPWH budget had DPWH Sec. Mark Villar and Duterte's approval. -- With reports from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News