Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno on Friday did not appear at the hearing of the House committee on appropriations, asking for more time to produce the documents sought by the panel’s chairman, Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr.
This developed as Andaya accused Diokno of attempting to bribe the House with P40 billion in an effort to stop the investigation into the alleged P75 billion in insertions in the proposed 2019 national budget—an accusation the Budget chief dismissed as “baseless.”
Diokno’s failure to attend the hearing prompted Andaya to ask the committee to cite Diokno for contempt, saying that the Budget secretary “was hiding behind technicalities” in skipping Friday’s committee hearing on the Budget Department’s 2017 and 2018 savings.
Andaya referred to Diokno’s letter to Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo asking that the hearing be reset because the subpoena issued to him should have been issued three days before under House rules.
“Diokno was making excuses. He has waived the three-day rule by complying with the subpoena duces tecum by submitting the documents on savings of DBM in 2017 (P209 billion) and 2018 (P97 billion),” Andaya said.
Addressing Diokno, Andaya said: “Whoever advised you to absent yourself led you astray. You’re still in contempt.”
He continued: “That [three-day prior rule] is not the point. This is your chance to clear your name, and you are hiding behind technicalities.”
He added that if Diokno believed the investigation would go away with the passage of the 2019 budget, he was in for a surprise.
Diokno said in his letter to Arroyo that the subpoena was received by the DBM 11 a.m., Thursday with the hearing scheduled the next day, Friday at 10 a.m.
While he welcomed the opportunity to clarify “issues regarding the 2019 budget,” he said, “clearly there was no proper notice and not enough time” to allow him and other DBM officials and staff to adequately prepare for the hearing.
He also cited the House rules that said subpoenas would be served to a witness at least three days ahead of a scheduled hearing to give the witness every opportunity to prepare for it and to employ counsel.
Andaya said he had met with Diokno several times last year during which he raised the issue of insertions, and the Budget chief has promised he would take care of the problem.
He added that Diokno offered a bribe over lunch in which Budget Undersecretary Mina Pangandaman “and a common friend” were present.
“He offered the House P40 billion for us to shut up about the P75 billion insertion,” Andaya said.
He said that as proof, he saved Pangandaman’s text messages inviting him to a meeting.
“Now I have the 2019 budget in my hand, and I do not see any P40 billion there,” Andaya said.
Andaya also said Diokno told him the P40 billion would come from the 2018 savings.
On Friday, the Department of Public Works and Highways said it sees nothing wrong with the inclusion by the Department of Budget and Management of an additional P75 billion infrastructure allocation to the DPWH budget even without prior knowledge of its officials.
DPWH Undersecretary Catalina Cabral who also attended Andaya’s hearing Friday said the alleged “insertion” made by DBM in the 2019 DPWH allocation is part of a “normal budget process.”
Cabral assured Andaya’s panel that details of the P75 billion that was added to the P480-billion DPWH budget were later sent to regional offices for proper vetting.
She explained that DPWH Secretary Mark Villar was aware of the P75 billion but only after the proposed 2019 national expenditure program was submitted to Congress.
“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.
She added: “After it was submitted to Congress, we gave our regions and districts a copy of the entire NEP for them to evaluate whether the projects can be implemented.”
The Palace said Diokno was justified in staying away from Friday’s hearing.
“Secretary Diokno has already manifested his position on the matter and his explanation for not attending the congressional hearing today is well-founded in fact and in law,” Panelo said in a statement.
“We, thus, respect the Budget secretary’s decision and we are hopeful that knowledgeable men and women of Congress would similarly find the circumstances surrounding the said official’s explanation justifiable as they perform their best in passing this year’s budget,” he added.
He assured Congress, however, that the executive branch would give its “full cooperation” and attend hearings and inquiries in aid of legislation “if necessary.”
Diokno denied Andaya’s accusation of a bribe.
“[It’s] 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.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said Diokno should answer the allegations of bribery hurled at him by Andaya.
“These are very serious allegations. We expect Secretary Diokno to answer these allegations,” Nograles said in a Palace press briefing.
“We in the Cabinet and the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, do not resort to things like bribing,” he added.
Amid all the ruckus, the Palace maintained that Diokno continues to enjoy the support of President Duterte and the Cabinet.
“We have not removed our support for Secretary Ben Diokno,” Panelo said.