HOUSE Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. alleges that a firm linked to Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno’s son-in-law got P550 million in government construction contracts, which it couldn’t have gotten without the official’s influence.
It is a serious allegation that Diokno should debunk with all the arguments and evidence he can muster. It dents the stellar graft-free image of the present administration in undertaking its massive, unprecedented infrastructure program.
But instead of confronting the allegations head-on, Diokno and his allies have instead tried to shift the attention to such irrelevant issues such as whether Andaya’s committee has the authority to undertake investigations on corruption in government infrastructure projects. or whether the Constitution prohibits a son-in-law from engaging in a business in which his father-in-law oversees in some way as a government official.
There was even a cheap attempt by that camp to claim that Andaya’s camp has merely been putting pressure on Diokno to allow it to control the billion pesos’ worth of Road Board funds, intended for quick disbursement for road repairs. That tack was, however, was quickly quashed when Andaya declared that if President Duterte wants the Road Board law repealed, he would support it without question in loyalty to this administration.
There are important questions Diokno must deal with decisively.
The biggest is this: How could an obscure firm in Bulacan, CT Leoncio Construction and Trading — a single proprietorship of a lady who looks more like a grandma running a pastry shop — get billions of government construction contracts?
This amounted to P4.2 billion in 2017, and in 2018 in the province of Sorsogon alone (for which data is available) P3 billion. Andaya claims that from 2013 to 2017 CT Leoncio got contracts worth P13 billion, when in 2012 and earlier, it was getting only at most P50 million in government projects. Diokno says Andaya got his facts wrong, but he doesn’t say how he got it wrong.
What, of course, is anomalous is if CT Leoncio merely sub-contracted these contracts to smaller firms, which in effect made it simply a broker. But how could such a “broker” have such influence in government to get projects to subcontract to others if it had not been paying officials to favor it?
CT Leoncio may have started to get huge government contracts in 2012, when the budget secretary then was still Noynoy Aquino’s ideologue Florencio Abad. Did Diokno inherit that “arrangement” from Abad?
It was CT Leoncio that had four joint ventures for road construction in Sorsogon worth P550 million with a firm in that province, Aremar Construction. The company turned out to be owned by children of a Sorsogon town mayor Edward Hamor, whose wife Vice Governor Ester Hamor’s son (from a previous marriage) Romeo Sicat is married to Diokno’s daughter, Charlotte.
Andaya’s is a “one plus one equals two” argument. An obscure firm gets to bag billions of pesos worth of government contracts which could have been due to the budget department’s intervention. Payback is through a firm linked to the department’s head that got contracts from CT Leoncio.
That may be just be coincidental, or too far a relationship to Diokno, to be of any consequence. Leoncio’s lawyer, Rafael Madrid, claimed that they were not aware of Diokno’s connection with Aremar. Still though, in a country and especially in a business requiring decisions by a government agency, even a “friend of a friend of a friend” is important in bagging contracts.
Diokno could have easily dismissed the allegations if his colleague in the Cabinet, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar had explained how CT Leoncio could have been awarded such billions of pesos in contracts, for example, that this was the decision of the awards committees of his department’s regional offices.
Villar, however, who has earned a reputation as an efficient public works secretary without a tint of corruption, isn’t talking at all, leaving his colleague Diokno twisting in the wind. Diokno is after all his colleague, and not the congressmen. Why is Villar not talking? Is it because, as Andaya claims, it was not Villar, not even President Duterte, who gave the authority for such construction projects to be funded by the government budget?
I have known Diokno since the early 1980s when he was with a group of University of the Philippines economists which came out with a much-quoted study that claimed that the economy under Marcos was so debt-ridden it would be collapsing soon. That helped spook foreign funds into avoiding the country.
The only speck in Diokno’s white track record, so to speak, was an episode when he was then president Joseph Estrada’s budget secretary, when his office’s security guard mistakenly opened a package that contained P1 million, which obviously was a bribe for someone in the office. It had not been revealed though to whom the package was addressed, and the episode was quickly forgotten.
I had communicated with Diokno several days ago to disprove Andaya’s allegations, which I would include in this column in its entirety. While responding the other day that he would do it, I have not received his communication on the matter, and I am past my deadline for filing this column.
Why wouldn’t Diokno take the opportunity to explain his side, and to somebody he knows?