By DJ Yap, February 12 2019; Philippine Daily Inquirer

Image Credit to Philippine Daily Inquirer

“Favored contractors” who prematurely won government contracts by advancing billions of pesos in commissions to public officials now want their money back, Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. said on Monday.

The chair of the House appropriations committee made the disclosure to raise the pressure on Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, whom he had accused, along with Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, of trying to restore P75 billion in public works projects in the 2019 budget to “appease” contractors who had already paid 10 percent to 20 percent in kickbacks to proponents.

Contractors upset

Andaya said the contracts, worth billions of pesos, fell through when the Senate and the House of Representatives deleted P75 billion that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) “inserted” into the 2019 spending bill and realigned the funds to the lawmakers’ own projects.

“Contractors who already paid commissions for the P75-billion infrastructure projects inserted by the DBM [into] the NEP (National Expenditure Program) are upset that their cash advances will be put to naught,” Andaya said in a statement.

He, however, did not identify any of the contractors, whom he described as “favored” in his exchanges with Diokno in December last year during the controversy over pork that delayed approval of the P3.8-trillion budget requested by President Duterte.

The Senate and the House ratified the spending program last week after resolving disputes over each other’s amendments to the measure.

They agreed, among other things, to delete the entire P75 billion allegedly added by the DBM to the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) without the knowledge of Public Works Secretary Mark Villar.

Andaya earlier alleged that those projects would benefit Diokno’s relatives, a charge the budget chief quickly denied.

On Sunday, Andaya claimed that Diokno and Nograles were orchestrating the restoration of the P75 billion through presidential veto of the congressional changes.

He said he would join Senators Panfilo Lacson and Franklin Drilon in challenging the restoration in the Supreme Court should Diokno and Nograles succeed.

Congress can’t do much

Lacson on Monday said Congress could do nothing much if the P75 billion would be restored.

“That’s within the constitutional [authority] of the President. We cannot question it,” Lacson said.

“The only way we can go against it is to override the veto by two-thirds vote, which is almost impossible because that has never happened in the two chambers,” he said.

Diokno on Monday swatted aside Andaya’s claim as “baseless, premature and irresponsible.”

The budget chief said Congress had not yet submitted the approved spending program to Malacañang.

“Our job is to provide the President the facts and options so he can exercise his constitutional duty to act on the budget bill once it arrives on his desk, including the option to exercise his line-item veto power,” Diokno said.

“If the congressional amendment is an improvement over the President’s proposal, we will propose adoption, otherwise we propose line-item veto,” he said.

No power to restore

Diokno called “unnecessary speculation” Andaya’s charge that Mr. Duterte could restore the P75 billion deleted by Congress.

“The President can veto particular line items in the budget, but he cannot introduce new items or bring back items that have already been deleted by Congress,” Diokno said.

The deleted funds were realigned to other items proposed by senators or representatives.

So far, neither chamber has not released information naming the projects to be funded from the P75 billion.

Echoing a claim earlier made by Lacson, Andaya said it was true that the DBM had already been peddling the P75 billion worth of projects to contractors across the country in exchange for commissions to proponents.

“The amount of commission asked by proponents, however, ranges from 10 percent to 20 percent per project, according to my sources,” Andaya said without identifying the sources or the project proponents. —WITH REPORTS FROM MARLON RAMOS, NESTOR CORRALES AND BEN O. DE VERA