A friend observing Presidential Spokesman Sal Panelo says that his defense of Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno is making it seem that the administration no longer recognizes the principle of checks and balances between co-equal branches of government.
Following congressman Nonoy Andaya’s stepping down as house majority leader, Panelo said that the now former house majority leader “should stop besmirch(ing) the image and reputation of a member of the Cabinet” and just file a case against Diokno in court.
First of all, according to my friend, what Andaya did weeks ago was to invite Diokno to a hearing in congress which was investigating alleged budget anomalies in the current 2018 and the proposed P3.757-trillion budget for 2019, both prepared under Secretary Diokno.
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Andaya accused Diokno of supposedly using his influence as Department of Budget and Management (DBM) chief to bag billions of pesos in infrastructure projects for Sorsogon and Casiguran, where the mayor is also the father-in-law of Diokno’s daughter.
Andaya said he is “particularly interested” in the P100 billion worth of unpaid payments that the DBM owes various contractors and suppliers this year. He quoted Budget Undersecretary Catalina Cabral as saying that for DPWH alone, the amount of pending payables is at P44 billion.
The Majority Leader said this is worrisome after Diokno admitted “inserting” P75 billion into the DPWH funds for 2019. But Diokno insists there is nothing anomalous here, as the additional funds were part of the legal budgeting process.
Andaya is also questioning the P10-billion infrastructure projects allocated to Sorsogon in 2018, as well as the P325-million allocation for flood control projects in Casiguran in the proposed 2019 budget.
Instead of demonstrating transparency and accountability, my friend points out, Diokno had refused to attend the congressional inquiry with Panelo claiming that President Duterte had ordered Diokno not to go to the hearing.
In subsequent statements, it seemed that Panelo was speaking more for Diokno than President Duterte whenever it came to issues surrounding the national budget.
This even came to the point of contradicting President Duterte’s order to release funds for the salary increases of government workers.
Panelo characterizing the House of Representative’s assertion of its power over the national budget as “political intramurals” seems inappropriate and may even appear damaging to an administration that has been accused many times of refusing to recognize the legislative and judiciary as co-equal branches of government.
Lest it be construed that I have suddenly turned “dilawan” for criticizing the Presidential Spokesman, let me state that what I am doing here is to offer some perspective and point out that as far as the pronouncements coming from Panelo, the administration seems to be telling not showing its commitment to established democratic principles.
Inasmuch as Panelo admonishes Andaya not to engage in a word war and trivializes congressional inquiries as political intramurals, Panelo should step aside and stop lawyering for Diokno — who should be able to speak for himself.