House rude to Diokno? Just 'check and balance' says Suarez

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 17) — A House leader said Monday they are just doing their job under a check and balance system in grilling Budget Secretary Ben Diokno during its Question Hour last week over a possible abuse of discretion.

"Tingnan niyo naman 'yung side ng House na hindi naman kwan kami, demolition crew. We're just a check and balance tapos nakita namin ito at pinapakita namin sa Gabinete na maybe 'yung isang member of Cabinet ninyo may kaunting violation dito at nagabuso sa katungkulan," House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez told CNN Philippines' The Source.

[Translation: Consider the House's side, that we're not a demolition crew. We're just a check and balance and we saw this and we are showing this to the Cabinet that maybe, one Cabinet member had some violations and abused his powers.]

 

He said the House has always respected Cabinet secretaries during hearings, even as Malacañang has cautioned that secretaries would decline invitations by the chamber or would leave congressional inquiries "the moment any sign of disrespect is given."

Cabinet secretaries, in a statement read by Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Friday, called the House grilling of Diokno over the alleged "insertion" of ₱71 billion in the 2019 budget "unparliamentary," adding that they would not allow a similar incident to happen again.

But Suarez said that was only "part and parcel" of their duties in Congress.

"We presented datas and evidences (sic) of abuse of authority. Look into those. Now, kung mali ang aming sinasabi [if what we're saying is wrong,] then sabihin mo na pine-persecute namin si [tell us that we're persecuting the] Secretary, if we don't have basis. We have basis," he said.

Diokno lying?

House leaders are accusing Diokno of "inserting" ₱75 billion into the 2019 budget of the Public Works department and that he had a hand in allocating billions in infrastructure projects in Casiguran, Sorsogon and Sorsogon province in 2018.

Suarez said Diokno did it to support the candidacies of his in-laws, Sorsogon Vice Governor Ester Hamor, who is running for Sorsogon City mayor, and Casiguran Mayor Edwin Hamor, who is seeking re-election. The vice governor's son is the husband of Diokno's daughter.

Diokno has denied this. He told lawmakers during Question Hour at the House last week that he does not let family ties affect decisions regarding the national budget.

But Suarez is not sold on Budget Secretary Ben Diokno's defense.

"Paano naman na hindi niya alam [How can he not know?]  … 1,489 municipalities in the Philippines, 122 component cities, dalawang bayan lang magkakaroon ng [only two towns would have a] project na [worth] ₱2.8 billion, hindi mo alam [you don't know?]" Suarez said. "He's lying. He knows that. That amount, particularly focused on just two areas, not just in hundreds of millions but billions?"

House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya said at least ₱550 million worth of infrastructure projects were found to have links to Diokno's in-laws. Mayor Hamor's daughter, Maria Minez Hamor, owns Aremar Construction Corp. which entered into a partnership with Bulacan-based CT Leoncio Construction and Trading for four projects in Sorsogon province.

Andaya and Suarez have questioned the qualifications of CT Leoncio, a single proprietorship, to take on big-ticket projects.

READ: 'Large-scale scam': House to subpoena sole contractor with 30 gov't projects

Suarez said the House would be conducting a probe on CT Leoncio and Aremar Construction in January when Congress goes back to work from its four-week holiday break.

Palace, House standoff

The House has called for President Rodrigo Duterte to reconsider the appointment of Diokno, but the Budget Secretary has received the solid backing of his Cabinet colleagues. Malacañang said the President still trusts Diokno despite allegations hurled against him.

Despite this, Suarez said the House would not withdraw its resolution calling for Diokno to be replaced.

"They'll stand by in their decision that they're not going to endorse to the President the appeal of the House na [to] ask for his replacement, kami naman [while] we'll stand pat on our findings that there's a clear violation of your powers as [Budget] Secretary and you should resign," Suarez said.

"We are presenting to the public and to the executive: Ito 'yung ginawa nung inyong kasamahan sa Gabinete. Sabihin niyo sa amin, abuso ba ito? Kami ba tama o mali? [This is what your fellow Cabinet member did. Tell us, is this abuse? Are we right or wrong?" he said.

The House Minority Leader added that the Duterte has told Andaya to "do your job."

The Palace said it would probe the ₱75 billion "insertion" allegations against Diokno, maintaining that there would be no "sacred cows" when it comes to holding public officials accountable.

Andaya had long been raising the issue of a "misplaced" ₱51-billion fund for the Public Works department in the 2019 budget, which the government agency is supposedly unaware of.

He raised this during the Question Hour with Diokno. The Budget chief said his department did add to the Public Works' 2019 budget ₱71 billion as there was still "fiscal space." However, he added these are not insertions, as these were part of the National Expenditure Program.