MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE, 1:45 P.M.)The people and communities are the ones who take the brunt of zero allocations for some members of the House of Representatives, Albay Representative Edcel Lagman warned on Wednesday.
To him, the last-minute decision to discard the infrastructure projects in the districts or beneficiaries of the 24 House members was the product of “caprice” and “vengeance”
directed at he called the authentic opposition and other targetted lawmakers.
“Steadfast critical dissent and perceived waywardness have left the respective constituencies of two dozen solons destitute of infrastructure projects under the 2018 General Appropriations Act,” Lagman, one of the 24 lawmakers who will not get infrastructure projects in the 2018 budget, said.
“Zero allocations are projected to punish and silence opposition legislators even as it is their constituencies who are deprived of the benefits of infrastructure development,” he said.
Lagman added, “Why punish citizens and communities for the earnest and valiant efforts of their Representatives to maintain responsible dissent as the bedrock of democracy?”
According to Lagman, the great majority of the deleted appropriations are not for so-called pet projects, but are for essential infrastructure intended for congressional districts in the 2018 National Infrastructure Program of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) under the “Build, Build, Build” scheme.
“These were not even requested by the affected Representatives and were included upon submission by DPWH in the President’s National Expenditure Program (NEP) on which the annual General Appropriations Bill (GAB) is entirely based,” he pointed out.
“The discarded projects were in the GAB which was approved on third reading by the House of Representatives but were surreptitiously deleted during the bicameral conference on the national budget reportedly upon instructions of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez,” he added.
Lagman said that the construction of roads and bridges; highways leading to tourism destinations; diversion roads to decongest traffic; flood protection like dikes and seawalls; and public buildings would be affected with the zero budget for some lawmakers.
As a result, highways and bridges for completion in 2018 would be left hanging and unfinished.
Moreover, majority of the deleted infrastructure projects have already been bid out pursuant to government’s advance bidding schedule pending approval of the General Appropriations Act (GAA), he added.
UNABASHED DISDAIN FOR DEMOCRACY – VILLARIN
Akbayan party-list Rep Tom Villarin, had harsh words for describing “the retaliatory actions of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez” in giving zero budget for infrastructure projects for district and national constituencies of lawmakers. Such acts by the Speaker “show unabashed disdain for democracy,” he said.
Villarin sees an ominous indicator: “It serves as fair warning to the rest of the House members that all must obey and support the move for a Con-Ass, no elections in 2019, and a shift to constitutional authoritarianism.”
In Villarin’s words, “punishing democratic dissent by letting people suffer through withdrawal of basic government services is pure hubris. The alacrity by which said punishment was imposed reveals the dictatorial nature of the House leadership and the vengeful mindset of the Duterte administration.”
Such a withdrawal of projects “without any basis and done treacherously after the bicam report on the General Appropriations Act was already approved in plenary is unprecedented and highly questionable. Any citizen deprived of such services can seek redress through our courts and the ballot.”