House panel to invite Diokno, in-laws to Sorsogon infra projects probe

MANILA, Philippines – A House of Representatives panel is set to invite Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno and his in-laws to attend an ongoing probe into allegedly anomalous infrastructure projects in Sorsogon province.

In a statement on Saturday, January 5, House Majority Leader and rules committee chairperson Rolando Andaya Jr said they will be invited "to give them the proper forum" after they have made statements to the media about the controversy. 

"I have instructed the House rules committee to send formal invitation to Sec Diokno and the incorporators of Aremar Construction [Corporation] so they can appear as resource persons in our next hearing," Andaya said.

Besides Diokno, the House committee also summoned Aremar Construction's biggest stockholder and Casiguran Mayor Edwin Hamor, company president Maria Minez Hamor, Martin Aber Sicat, Maria Charisma Sicat, Romeo "Jojo" Sicat Jr, and Edmon Bautista.

The Casiguran mayor is the husband of Sorsogon Vice Governor Ester Hamor. The vice governor's son from a previous marriage, Romeo Sicat Jr, is married to Diokno's daughter Charlotte Justine Diokno Sicat, who will also be invited to the probe.

Andaya on Saturday said the committee also "[expects] the presence" of the vice governor in the probe.

Aremar Construction, based in Casiguran, is a major partner of contractor C.T. Leoncio Construction and Trading for 5 construction projects in the Bicol region, said Andaya. (READ: Contractor not aware Diokno’s in-laws behind partner firm – lawyer)

Consolacion Leoncio, owner of Bulacan-based C.T. Leoncio Construction and Trading, attended the first House hearing into the controversy on Thursday, January 3, in Naga City. Leoncio supposedly has ties to Diokno and a former Cabinet official.

In addition, Andaya claimed that "dummy contractors" supposedly deposited at least P70 million ($1.33 million)* worth of kickbacks to Aremar Construction's bank account, as evidenced by 5 deposit slips. (READ: Andaya seeks AMLC help in probe of firms linked to Diokno's in-laws)

Andaya said the controversy is a "clear case of conflict of interest." Diokno has denied all accusations against him.

However, Andaya appealed on Saturday to all those invited to the next hearing to "stop hiding the truth using technicalities and general denials." He also urged them to bring documentary evidence in their defense.  

"The House investigation will be greatly aided if the Dioknos, the Hamors, and the Sicats can provide us copies of their [Bureau of Internal Revenue] tax payments, incorporation papers, divestment documents, and Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN), among others."

Andaya also challenged Diokno's daughter Charlotte, who he said is a University of the Philippines professor, to show that she listed his husband's shares in Aremar Construction in her SALN.

"Walang dapat ikatakot ang mga pamilyang ito. Malalaman natin ang katotohanan, kung talagang inosente sila, batay sa mga dokumentong isa-submit nila sa committee," said Andaya.

(These families have nothing to fear. We will know the truth, whether they are innocent, based on the documents they will submit to the committee.)

*$1 = P52.50

Michael Bueza

Michael Bueza is a researcher and data curator under Rappler's Research Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.