By Domini M. Torrevillas
Published in The Philippine Star on February 14, 2019
Preparing the annual budget for the national government is probably the most vexing, most tedious and most stressful task that any government official has to perform. Ask Secretary Ben Diokno of the Department of Budget and Management.
The DBM’s chief’s name flashed across my mind as I was preparing the monthly budget for our new home in Gingoog City where we settled a few months ago after leaving our long-time abode in Valle Verde, Pasig City.
Jotting down our monthly expenses was really a breeze as it involves only the usual items like food, water, electricity, cooking fuel, cable TV, transportation, the kasambahay, a few clothing perhaps and the occasional entertainment. So much unlike the perplexing task of assembling what economists call a “NEP” which stands for National Expenditure Program.
I may add that since my husband and I have begun going vegetarians, we do not have a budget for pork – not the pork that congressmen relish with gusto but the kind that comes from slaughtered pigs. I must say though, that the times when we had to fly back to Manila compel us to make certain “insertions” in our budget. To answer for the plane tickets, that is.
But back to Secretary Diokno. I must admit that I hold the man in high esteem because, while I do not know him personally, the things I’ve read and heard about him somehow generated in me an image of unblemished integrity, superior mental quality, exceptional competence, and a keen understanding of financial and economic matters.
Hence, the allegations of anomalies, outright corruption and now, even bribery of congressmen hurled against Diokno by certain members of the House appropriations committee come as a real shocker to this writer. They accuse the budget chief of having a “DBM pork” of P370 billion, giving a P75-billion “insertion” to the Department of Public Works and Highways supposedly for “flood mitigation projects” in Sorsogon to shore up the public image of his daughter’s parents-in-law, who are running in the coming May 13 elections.
The accusations hit me as utterly incredulous. It is absolutely unthinkable that a man who has established such a solid reputation all through these years and at age 70 is now at the twilight of career in public service, would taint his name by committing what civil service bureaucrats would describe as “malfeasance.”
But not wanting my sympathies rule reason, I turned to the Internet to find out if the man has faced graft charges before, or had some brushes with the law in the past, either as a public official or as a private person.
I found none. But I don’t know if some other people, whether in the DBM or in other government offices where Diokno was connected with, had any negative information about him that would somehow impugn his character. But my search for such items drew a complete blank.
The relevant data I saw, say that his present position is the third time he has been with the DBM. The first was when he served as Undersecretary from 1986 to 1991 under the late President Cory Aquino. The second was when then President Erap Estrada named him as Budget Secretary, a position he held from June 1998 until January 2001 when Erap was ousted from Malacañang through a coup.
The Internet also said he served as financial adviser to the Senate, chairman and CEO of the Philippine National Oil Co. (PNOC), chairman of the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) and chairman of the board of trustees of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila.
His academic credentials are topped by a PhD in economics from Syracuse University in New York and an MA in political economy from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. These are in addition to a Masters in Public Administration (1970) and economics (1974) in University of the Philippines and a college degree in Public Administration, also in UP.
Diokno flatly denies the charges aired against him. The supposed P370-billion “DBM pork” he explains, is actually composed of unused funds from unreleased allocations and unobligated allotments. These funds, he said, had already been returned to the Bureau of Treasury and could no longer be used. So “there is no such thing as DBM pork,” he states.
As for the alleged P75-billion “insertion” in the DPWH budget that was said to be for “flood mitigation projects” in Sorsogon, he disclosed that the amount was actually an adjustment for the DPWH budget that was added to its former P480.2 billion allocation which now totalled P555.7 billion. He said that this budget was presented and approved by the Cabinet on July 9, 2018.
The adjustment, he explained, was intended to enhance that agency’s infrastructure performance in line with the “Build, Build, Build” program of the administration.
As for the accusation that this was intended to boost the candidacies of his daughter’s parents-in-law, I find it rather incredible that a man with a long and untainted record in public service would recklessly gamble his reputation in such a manner. And for what? To help the election campaign of two people running for such relatively minor posts as mayor of Sorsogon City and mayor of an unheard-of town in that province?
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Today is Valentine’s Day, and many of us are honoring our mothers as the superheroes in our lives who are deserving of flowers and our affection. Aside from my mother, there are two mothers I wish to honor today for creating an impact on our, and many other women’s lives. These are Gina de Venecia and Dr. Nelia T. Gonzalez.
Gina, a former House representative, is running for a seat in the 18th Congress under the Party List #69 Inang Mahal. She is the mother of four children. As a legislator, she saw to the establishment of centers called “havens” for women victims of all kinds of abuses, rape, incest and illegal trafficking; for drug-dependent children, for senior citizens, and for mothers who have lost their children for free counseling.
#69 Inang Mahal envisions programs to empower women and mothers in their critical role in shaping the consciousness of nation-building and provide them with responsible governance and representation in the creation of legislation that will improve their welfare and social economic standing in their communities. Gina is turning 70 years old tomorrow.
Dr. Nelia Gonzalez, is a recognized bonafide visionary and trailblazer, an innovative entrepreneur who has made valuable contributions to the improvement of the agriculture industry. Her numerous awards include her alma mater, UPLB’s conferring on her a PhD. Ninang to many, she turns 95 years old on February 17, still in possession of a brilliant mind and a caring heart. Happy birthday, and Happy Valentine’s, Ninang.