Palace firm, Diokno stays

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Hang tough The Palace is sticking with Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno amid House efforts to oust him. ALFONSO PADILLA

The Palace said it is not entertaining calls from the House of Representatives for the dismissal of Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, saying the Cabinet official’s record is unblemished and that President Rodrigo Duterte is behind him all the way.

House members have accused Diokno of being involved in misdeals.

Diokno has the trust and confidence of Mr. Duterte, Malacañang said in a statement.

“While we respect House Resolution 2365, which urges the Office of the President to reconsider the appointment of Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Benjamin Diokno as an expression of sentiment from a separate branch of the government, we similarly wish to express that the President continues to trust the Budget Secretary and the confidence reposed on him remains unimpaired,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said.

“As one of the administration’s economic managers, PRRD (President Duterte) considers him as one of the best and brightest in his official family. Diokno’s reputation as an upright, competent and honest public servant stays solid up to this day,” Panelo added.

The DBM, in a statement, thanked Mr. Duterte for the “continued trust and confidence in Secretary Benjamin Diokno as his economic manager and Budget Secretary.”

“He has served under three presidents in the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), and has always upheld the highest standards of integrity, honor and competence in public service,” the statement read.

“Diokno has a track record that speaks for itself. In his first stint as Budget Secretary, the DBM adopted the what-you-see-is-what-you-get policy such that the General Appropriations Act (GAA) will serve as the comprehensive release document of the national budget,” it added.

Under the leadership of Secretary Diokno, underspending has been eliminated. From as high as 13.3 percent and 12.8 percent in 2014 and 2015, respectively, it has been significantly reduced to 3.6 percent in 2016 and 2.9 percent in 2017.

“In fact, from January to September 2018, spending is above the program by 2.6 percent, marking a turnaround in the efficiency and timeliness of government disbursements,” the statement explained.

“The DBM strongly supports Secretary Diokno and condemns the flimsy accusations hurled against him in furtherance of a political agenda,” it added.

Diokno became a target of House leaders after he pushed for a cash-based budget system that was aimed at removing lump sums and savings by limiting the use of allocations within a budget year.

Panelo added Congress should not dictate on who should or should not be appointed to key government positions.

Respect the Palace

“Should it feel that there was an irregularity in the allocation of the budget, it can always correct it apart from having the option of recommending the filing of charges against those they deem are responsible for the transgressions should the same amount to a crime,” Panelo stated.

“In the same manner that the President doesn’t tell Congress who it will choose as its officers and how to go about it, we wish that its members return the same courtesy,” he added.
The spokesman cited Diokno’s exemplary record in government service and described the embattled Cabinet member “as an upright, competent and honest public servant.”

“Secretary Diokno’s record in the government service, to the mind of the Chief Executive and of the rest of his Cabinet, is unblemished. As one of the administration’s economic managers, PRRD considers him as one of the best and brightest in his official family,” he said.

Diokno was put on the hot seat when he appeared before congressmen last 12 December to answer questions surrounding the alleged P75 billion worth of insertions in the proposed P3.757-trillion national budget for 2019 without the knowledge of the Chief Executive.

He was also accused of favoring Bulacan-based contractor CT Leoncio Construction and Trading, a construction firm that has bagged at least 30 government projects worth billions.
Diokno already denied this.

Unfair call

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said unless supported by solid evidence, the allegation against Diokno does not warrant his resignation or relief from the Cabinet.

“The call for the sacking of Secretary Diokno is too harsh and unfair considering that the accusation against him is more speculative than it is substantiated by solid evidence,” Lacson said.

He, however, stressed that an investigation should be conducted.

“Nevertheless, an investigation by the House or even the Senate is in order. We may be barely scratching the surface of anomalies involved, not only in unwarranted realignments by both House and Senate members, but in the preparation of the NEP (National Expenditure Program),” he added.

Lacson, who has been scrutinizing the General Appropriations Bill submitted by the House to the Senate, had identified insertions or “pork barrel” in the GAB amounting to billions of pesos. He expressed belief that more insertions are yet to be discovered in the 2019 proposed national budget.

“I am almost sure more will be coming out,” he declared.

Probe continues

House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. announced they will continue to probe on “budget anomalies and questionable allocations.”

On Thursday, he announced the House Committee on Rules will conduct an investigation on the questionable items on the 2019 GAB which he said was allocated by DBM on 3 January in Naga City.

“The committee will subpoena, among others, the regional director of the DPWH, two district engineers of Sorsogon City and the district engineer of Catanduanes. Also, to be subpoenaed are the heads of the DPWH bids and awards committee, active and recently retired, who handled the projects of CT Leoncio,” Andaya said in a statement.

Duty to scrutinize

Panelo, nonetheless, stressed Congress “has the constitutional duty to scrutinize the budget and even has the power to revise or amend proposals found in it.”

“Should it feel that there was irregularity in the allocation of the budget, it can always correct it apart from having the option of recommending the filing of charges against those they deem are responsible for the transgressions should the same amount to a crime. In the same manner that the President doesn’t tell Congress who it will choose as its officers and how to go about it, we wish that its members return the same courtesy,” Panelo said.

With Hananeel Bordey and Elmer N. Manuel

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