Andaya sees plunder in flood control 'scam' linked to Budget chief

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 14) — House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. said the flood control project "scam," which supposedly saw millions of government funds funneled into the account of a construction firm owned by Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno's in-laws, could be considered as plunder.

Andaya told CNN Philippines' The Source on Monday that he obtained six deposit slips from contractors who paid to Aremar Construction Corporation a total of ₱70 million for government infrastructure projects which it supposedly never bagged.

"So how come they got ₱20 million, ₱15 million – and it's all indicated in deposit slips that it is for collection from government contracts which they never won," Andaya said. "Now, if that's not plunder, I don't know what it is."

Under Philippine law, plunder is committed when a public officer, by himself or in connivance with other persons, pockets from government coffers an amount totalling to at least ₱50 million.

Andaya said after the House probe in Naga City last January 3, contractors came to him to back his claim that kickbacks were given to Aremar, a construction firm where Diokno's in-laws — Casiguran, Sorsogon Mayor Edwin Hamor and Sorsogon Vice Governor Ester Hamor, and her son, Rogelio "Jojo" Sicat, the husband of the Budget chief's daughter — had majority shares.

 

"They (contractors) wanted fair play. Because it's been going on for two years. The legitimate contractors could not participate and everything had to go to Aremar. Even if it was a small contract, you had to bow down to them," Andaya said.

He added that contractors were only giving Aremar public money because they are in the bailiwick of the Hamors.

 

While Andaya said the supposed scam involving flood control projects for the Hamors' stronghold can be considered as plunder, he did not specify who may be charged for this.

The House Majority Leader earlier claimed that the Office of the Ombudsman "has taken interest" in the alleged scam and has started probing the matter. This was denied by Ombudsman Samuel Martires, who said they have only asked for copies of the privilege speeches of Andaya and Senator Ping Lacson.

During the House rules committee's probe in Naga, Andaya said Diokno allocated ₱385 million for flood control projects in Casiguran, Sorsogon – an area which is not flood-prone. He also said contractors are being used as fronts by Aremar.

Diokno has repeatedly denied these allegations, saying that the Budget department has no control over the selection of contractors and the implementation of projects.

The House would continue its probe on the alleged scam on Tuesday, January 15.

Senate 'forced' House to pass 2019 budget

Some senators have questioned why Andaya was only flagging the supposed anomalies in the proposed 2019 budget now, after it has passed the General Appropriations Bill in November.

But Andaya said the Senate "forced" the House to pass the budget bill amid concerns about a reenacted budget, which Diokno has warned may lead to delays in government project and the release of salary hikes for government workers.

However, despite being "forced" to pass the budget, the Senate still failed to pass it on time, which senators have attributed to the House's late passage of the budget bill, leading to the reenactment of the 2018 budget.

The budget's passage in the lower house was met with delays following the ascension of Pampanga 1st District Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as Speaker, when House leaders flagged a ₱50 million "insertion" in the budget of the Public Works department.

Diokno later clarified that the additional allocation to the Public Works department was ₱75 million, which was done to fulfill their commitment to increase infrastructure spending to five percent of the country's gross domestic product.

With Andaya still unsatisfied with Diokno's explanations, he said they are  eyeing to iron out the kinks in the budget when the two chambers of Congress meet in the budget's bicameral conference committee.

"To even think now na pagdating sa [when it arrives to the] bicam we will pass it speedily, I don't think that's happening. There's so many things that Secretary DIokno has to explain to the bicameral committee," Andaya said.

Senate President Tito Sotto said they are eyeing the 2019 budget to be ready for President Rodrigo Duterte's signature by January 27.