House probe tackles ‘flood-control scam’ in Bicol
NAGA CITY — House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. said on Thursday that there was a “flood-control scam” in the Bicol region involving hundreds of millions of pesos in projects that lacked a master plan, resulting in flood-prone areas not receiving any funds while others were awashed with cash.
“There is no problem if we get flooded with funds in Bicol. That would favor us Bicolanos. The problem is the fund never goes to where it is needed,” Andaya said during a congressional inquiry in Naga City on alleged “questionable” practices by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
He said that the flood-control projects had no clear rules and that people were taking advantage of them.
“We have department orders that are being violated, there are protocols that are not being followed, and we have flood-mitigation studies that we had paid that are not being used,” Andaya said, referring to the reports by the World Bank and the Japan International Cooperation Agency as well as hazard maps prepared by Project Noah.
No threat of flooding
There was also lopsided fund allocations among certain towns, Andaya said.
Casiguran town, Sorsogon province, got P385 million for 2019 despite having no threat of flooding in the next 25 years, he said.
Matnog, a flood-prone town in the same province, received no flood-control allocation and was inundated during the onslaught of Tropical Depression “Usman,” he said.
“We witnessed which areas are flood-prone and which ones are not. This shows us which areas need funds for the safety of their citizens,” Andaya said.
‘Maybe God is guiding us’
“Maybe God was guiding us in our investigation. He showed us the areas that really need to be prioritized in terms of flood-control projects,” Andaya said, referring to Matnog, where 19 villages were submerged.
He said the Department of Public Works and Highways “have been flooded by funds” from DBM under Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno.
The DBM allocated about P79 billion to DPWH’s flood-control projects in 2017 and the amount ballooned to P134 billion the following year, up 70 percent with the additional P55 billion, Andaya said.
The fund amounted to P119 billion in the 2019 budget.
He said the flood-control projects in Casiguran included the Himaoyan Flood Control (P75 million), Lungib Seawall and Embankment (P80 million), Somal-ot Seawall and Embankment (P100 million), Cagpagol River Control (P45 million), Suji River Control (P25 million) and Poblacion Drainage System (P60 million).
Mayor Jose Edwin Hamor of Casiguran, Sorsogon, is the husband of Sorsogon Vice Gov. Ester Hamor, the mother of Romeo Sicat Jr., who is the husband of Diokno’s daughter, Charlotte Justin.
Andaya said Aremar Construction Corp., which was involved in several public works projects worth P10 billion in Sorsogon in partnership with other companies, also was owned by the Hamor family.
This shows conflict of interest on the part of Diokno, he said.
Palace won’t intervene
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Malacañang won’t intervene in the House probe.
“It’s the job of the House to conduct investigations. We leave it to them and let’s see their findings,” Panelo said in a press briefing on Thursday.
He also expressed confidence that Diokno would be able to defend himself.
“I am sure, definitely. Diokno is very competent to answer any question directed to him,” Panelo said.
Malacañang does not see anything wrong with the House’s probe, since each branch of government has its own functions and duties to carry out.
In a statement on Thursday, Mayor Hamor dismissed insinuations that he benefited from the government projects awarded to Aremar.
He said he divested his interest in the company when he entered government service in 2016, two years after it was incorporated.
He said his daughter from a previous relationship, Maria Minez Hamor, was now the majority owner of Aremar. —WITH REPORTS FROM JULIE M. AURELIO AND MARLON RAMOS
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