'Budget probe not over'

The investigation into the alleged insertions into the 2019 national budget does not end with the funding measure’s passage, as the House of Representatives’ Committees on Appropriations and Public Accounts will conduct joint public hearings to press the issue against Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno.

“The job of Congress does not end with passing the budget. If the good Secretary thinks he can now relax and continue with his illicit activities, he is gravely mistaken,” said Camarines Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. in a statement on Saturday.

Andaya, who chairs the appropriations body, had accused Diokno of inserting P75 billion in additional funds to the proposed Department of Public Works and Highways budget this year, and for supposedly favoring a construction firm of his relatives for projects in the Bicol region.

“We are not done investigating anomalies he is involved in,” Andaya said of the budget chief. “We will make sure that each cent from taxpayers will be spent according to laws and Supreme Court decisions.”

However, the DPWH itself sees nothing wrong with the Department of Budget and Management inclusion of the P75-billion infrastructure allocation to the public works budget, even without prior knowledge of its officials.

At a congressional hearing Friday, DPWH Undersecretary Catalina Cabral said the alleged “Insertion” made by DBM in the 2019 DPWH allocation is part of a “normal budget process.”

Cabral told the panel, chaired by Andaya, that details of the P75 billion that was added to the P480-billion DPWH budget were later sent to regional offices for proper vetting.

Public Works Secretary Mark Villar was aware of the P75 billion but only after the proposed 2019 National Expenditure Program was submitted to Congress, Cabral said.

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.

“I recall the Secretary saying we consider it a budgetary adjustment and therefore DBM has the prerogative to add or reduce. We took the NEP as it is,” Cabral said.

“After it was submitted to Congress, we gave our regions and district a copy of the entire NEP for them to evaluate whether the projects can be implemented,” she added.

Cabral said the suspicious additional funding is considered the President’s budget if it came from the DBM.

Andaya assailed Diokno for allegedly “inserting” P75-billion funding in the DPWH’s original budget of P480 billion, saying that officials of the department were made unaware of such allocation prior to its inclusion.

In the next few weeks, the House will issue subpoenas for DBM and DPWH officials to appear at the hearing, but would not require Diokno 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.

Topics: House of Representatives , Benjamin Diokno , Rolando Andaya Jr.
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