HOUSE Appropriations committee chair Rolando G. Andaya on Friday accused Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno of offering money to lawmakers to keep silent about the alleged “insertions” in the P3.757 trillion national budget for 2019, which the Cabinet official denied.
“I told him (Mr. Diokno) that we have a problem. I repeated the problem, told him the red flags, told him the problems we’re encountering. He then, Secretary Diokno, tries to buy our cooperation. He offered the House P40 billion for us to shut up about the P75 billion insertion,” Mr. Andaya said during the House hearing on the budget practices of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) on Friday.
He said Mr. Diokno offered the money during a meeting with him, Budget Undersecretary Amenah F. Pangandaman, and another person Mr. Andaya did not name.
“Now I have the 2019 budget in my hand. I do not see any P40 billion there. He told me, ‘I will get it from the savings in the 2018.’ That is the reason why I’m asking for documents on the 2018 savings,” he added.
Sought for comment, Mr. Diokno said the lawmaker’s claims against him were “another wild and baseless allegation.”
“Absolutely false. It is again one of his wild and baseless accusations. If I were trying to silence the Committee, why would I even bother to submit to them the 2017 and 2018 savings for their review?,” he said in a text message to BusinessWorld.
The Budget Secretary did not attend the congressional hearing on Friday despite being issued a subpoena by the House committee on appropriations.
Mr. Diokno was ordered to appear at the hearing to account for the large amount of government savings in 2017 and 2018, as well as to answer the controversial insertion of P75 billion in the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) budget under the 2019 national budget.
A statement issued by the DBM said that Mr. Diokno sought for a reset of the hearing in a letter addressed to House Speaker Gloria M. Arroyo and invoked the DBM officials and staff’s right to proper notice and a fair and just hearing. He cited a House of Representatives’ rule which requires subpoenas to be issued to a witness at least three days before a scheduled hearing.
“Whatever is the real purpose of the House in calling me, I will appear in Congress. However, I take my duty to the people very seriously,” Mr. Diokno said.
“It is only right that we prepare in order to give the Filipino people a complete and clear picture of the matter, and avoid giving information that only suits a specific agenda. We are definitely cooperating but it is imperative that we be given the proper amount of time to prepare,” he added.
In a separate statement released after the hearing, the DBM reiterated that the agency “has done its part in ensuring the concerned officials were consulted regarding changes in the proposed budget throughout the budget preparation phase.”
The DBM also cited the statements of DPWH Undersecretary Catalina E. Cabral that the P75 billion in question was just an adjustment, which underwent the proper process with DBM and the DPWH.
“This is all part of the budget process,” the agency stated.
For his part, Mr. Andaya said he would continue to hold hearings into the issue despite the fact that Congress will be on break from Feb. 9 to May 19. He also called on Mr. Diokno to appear in the next hearing.
“I appeal to you, one more time, in the next hearing, even in the middle of the (election) campaign, let’s meet again. Explain it properly,” he said. — Camille A. Aquinaldo