Flood control project questioned
Why did the government approve a multimillion-peso flood control project for a river on a riverless plain in Sorsogon province?
House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. on Tuesday said he was perplexed at how several local infrastructure projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in Sorsogon were implemented without being flagged by the Commission on Audit (COA).
At the resumption of the House inquiry into an alleged flood mitigation project scam, Andaya reiterated that there were documents showing that a company owned by Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno’s in-laws, Aremar Construction Corp., received over P81 million from its supposed “dummy” companies.
“This is the worst. A flood control project for a river has been started while they are still waiting for the river to be there,” Andaya said, showing photos of the flood mitigation project in Prieto Diaz town.
“Other projects were finished beyond the deadline. If ever they were finished, these were hastily done and were destroyed eventually after a few months. Others were constructed to look like they were flood control projects in areas which are not even flood-prone,” he said.
Despite the palpable violations of the construction projects, he said the DPWH and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) allocated hundreds of millions of pesos for road building programs in Sorsogon.
Andaya said he believed this was due to Diokno’s relationship to Vice Gov. Ester Hamor and her husband, Mayor Jose Edwin Hamor of Casiguran town.
Ester is the mother of Diokno’s son-in-law, Romeo Sicat Jr., who is also an incorporator of Aremar.
Aided by his lawyers, Hamor appeared at the hearing, which Andaya initiated in December last year shortly after Sen. Panfilo Lacson claimed that he and Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo received billions of pesos in pork-funded projects for 2019.
Hamor insisted that he was not directly related to Diokno, as Sicat was his wife’s son from her previous marriage.
Sicat, whom Andaya described as a known cockfighting aficionado, is married to Diokno’s daughter, Charlotte Justine.
The mayor, who looked calm throughout the five-hour inquiry, said he put up Aremar in 2014 primarily to help his daughter, Maria Minez Hamor, have her own business because she was just an ordinary employee then.
Grilled by Andaya, Hamor maintained that he was not close to Diokno and that he had seen the budget secretary only once, during a wedding they had both attended.
Diokno earlier claimed that he did not know that the parents of his son-in-law were incumbent officials in Sorsogon.
“He calls me ‘mayor.’ I’m not his in-law. We’re not [directly] related,” Hamor told the House majority leader.
“It is my wife who is the in-law of Diokno, not me,” he said.
The mayor said he divested his interest in Aremar in 2016, two years after the company was incorporated with him as the biggest shareholder.
He, however, could not present documents proving that he had indeed distributed his shares in the construction firm to Maria Minez and his stepchildren Romeo Sicat Jr., Maria Charisma Sicat and Martin Aber Sicat.
Andaya said Hamor was still a registered owner of Aremar in the records of the Securities and Exchange Commission as of December 2017.
Heeding the advice of his lawyer, Hamor said he would furnish the House committee on rules with documents showing that he no longer had business interest in Aremar and another company, B. Vicencio Construction.
According to Andaya, big contractors collect up to 5 percent as “commission” from infrastructure projects awarded to them but built by smaller constructions companies that failed to participate in the competitive public bidding.
He said this was the reason why Aremar entered into a joint venture agreement with CT Leoncio Construction and Trading of Bulacan province, which snared 36 big-ticket DPWH projects in 2018 amounting to P1.6 billion.
Last year, Andaya said Aremar completed four projects with CT Leoncio worth P551 million.
Andaya had called on Diokno to come to the inquiry for questioning on “insertions” into the P3.8-trillion proposed budget for 2019.
Diokno said last month that he was not allowed to go to the inquiry, after he was shabbily treated by Arroyo’s allies during Question Hour in the House.
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