Andaya: P10-B Sorsogon projects all went to Diokno in-laws’ firm, dummies
NAGA CITY — A construction company owned by Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno’s in-laws and its “dummies” snared the entire P10 billion worth of infrastructure projects earmarked for Sorsogon province in 2018, according to House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr.
Presiding over a public hearing on Thursday here, the Camarines Sur representative said Aremar Construction Corp. had partnered with CT Leoncio Construction and Trading and seven other companies to bag several Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) contracts.
Documents obtained by the Inquirer showed that Aremar got government project contracts in Sorsogon worth P551 million in the past 12 months.
Andaya said, the amount could be bigger than what he had earlier suspected.
‘Just a dummy’
“In this case, it seems that CT Leoncio is just a dummy. The real project proponent is Aremar Construction,” Andaya told the legislative inquiry attended by local DPWH officials from the Bicol region.
“The bidding (process) was just for a show. The role of ‘triple A’ (construction) companies is just to secure the contract and then lend their license to the company that will really undertake the project,” he added.
Securities and Exchange Commission records show that Aremar is primarily owned by Mayor Jose Edwin Hamor of Casiguran, Sorsogon, the husband of Sorsogon Vice Gov. Ester Hamor.
Hamor on Thursday dismissed insinuations that he personally benefited from the government projects awarded to Aremar, which was incorporated in 2014.
In a statement, the Casiguran mayor said he divested his interest in the company when he entered government service in 2016 and that his daughter from a previous relationship, Maria Minez Hamor, was now the majority owner of Aremar.
The Sorsogon vice governor is the mother of Romeo Sicat Jr., who is the husband of Diokno’s daughter, Charlotte Justin.
Sicat is also a director and incorporator of Aremar, whose business address is in Barangay Timbayog, Casiguran town.
Consolacion Tubuhan Leoncio, owner of the Bulacan-based company, appeared at the inquiry after House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez identified CT Leoncio as a favored DPWH contractor in Sorsogon and other Bicol provinces.
Leoncio testified that her company was in a joint venture with Aremar, but maintained that she did not know its owners and their relationship with the budget secretary.
“Secretary Diokno may choose to downplay it, but he cannot deny the fact that [the Hamors] are the parents of his son-in-law,” Andaya said.
Speaking to reporters after the three-hour hearing, Andaya claimed that the seven “triple A” companies, which had won all the government contracts of the DPWH in Sorsogon totaling P10 billion last year, had entered into a partnership with Aremar similar to what it had with CT Leoncio.
“We will try to prove in the coming days that these seven companies are also dummies like CT Leoncio from which the Hamors had benefited,” Andaya said.
Hamor clarified that Aremar and CT Leoncio were “not partners, but are only involved in a joint venture for four infrastructure projects in Sorsogon.”
He said joint ventures were legal and allowed by the DPWH if they had a Philippine Contractors Accreditation Board approval and a special license for such arrangements.
“The procurement law requires that all projects be open to all contractors. And it’s not the Department of Budget and Management that bids out and releases; it is the DPWH,” Hamor added.
Asked whether Diokno had directly benefited financially from the projects in Sorsogon, Andaya replied: “I think we’re getting close to it.”
“Clearly, there’s a conflict of interest on his part. His daughter is the legal wife of the co-owner of [Aremar],” he said. “It’s quite obvious that his daughter benefited from this, being the wife of [Sicat]. It’s that simple.”
Andaya said one of the construction companies, which he declined to immediately identify, had provided him a bank deposit slip showing that over P11.4 million was transferred to the account of CT Leoncio in Land Bank of the Philippines on Oct. 8, 2018.
A handwritten note on it said: “Collection for DPWH project.”
“This gives credence to a report intimated to us by several contractors. They claim that the technical details in the bidding documents were spurious,” he said.
“The winning bidder will then just get a commission from the project,” he added. “The contract will be given to a local contractor [whose owners] are close to the government official responsible for the release of the funds.”
Andaya started to scrutinize Diokno’s role in allotting public funds in Sorsogon after Sen. Panfilo Lacson divulged that Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo received P2.4 billion while Andaya’s district got P1.9 billion in the P3.8-trillion proposed budget for 2019.
The pork barrel system, a major source of kickbacks for corrupt officials, has been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Responding to questions from Suarez, Leoncio maintained that she did not personally know the Hamors and their relationship with Diokno.
“They (Aremar owners) came to us and asked us if we want to have a joint venture with them. I agreed because I did not find anything wrong with it,” she said.
Meeting with liaison officer
The businesswoman claimed it was his liaison officer, Francis Clemente, who had directly negotiated with Aremar in setting up the partnership.
Suarez told Leoncio that it was difficult to imagine that she would give business worth more than P551 million to another company without personally meeting its owners.
“Are you saying that you just agreed with what your liaison officer told you? You did not meet with [the Hamors]?” Suarez asked Leoncio.
“I trust [my subordinates],” she answered in Filipino. “Our policy in the office is that we will never use bogus documents. That’s our major policy.”
Maria Minez Hamor is a director of Aremar and the “authorized managing officer” of the joint venture between CT Leoncio and Aremar.
Martin Abner Sicat, Maria Charisma Sicat and Edmon Bautista are the other Aremar incorporators and directors.
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