MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE, 1:10 P.M) Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on Thursday stood pat on his decision to purge the projects of opposition and several lawmakers from the 2018 budget to reallocate the fund for “other priorities.”
At the same time, he turned the tables on opposition lawmakers who had raised the issue of “zero budget” for critics, which the Speaker was accused of having manipulated. Alvarez dropped broad hints the leftist partylist lawmakers may be sourcing their funds from the so-called revolutionary taxes that their allied groups are said to be drawing.
He also wondered aloud where P3.8 billion worth of projects that he said were allocated to Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman had gone.
“I mean what I say and I am not in the habit of saying one thing and doing another. If there’s money, then I’ll see to it that it would be properly allocated,” he said in a statement.
“As much as possible, once funding for a project has been approved, then it is good to go. But in extraordinary cases we have to re-allocate funds for other priorities, such as education and the welfare of policemen and soldiers. This is what happened in the 2018 budget,” he added.
Early this week, several opposition lawmakers confirmed that the infrastructure projects they earlier proposed for their congressional districts were de-funded from the 2018 budget.
A total of 17 lawmakers were given zero infrastructure budget. The seven partylist lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc — Carlos Zarate, Antonio Tinio, France Castro, Emmi de Jesus, Arlene Brosas, Ariel Casilao, Sarah Elago — did not propose any project.
Several opposition lawmakers said the move was in retaliation for their criticisms of the Duterte administration.
Alvarez said he respects the views of the opposition, and explained that “the funds slashed from some projects of the opposition and even those in the supermajority have been re-allocated to free college education in state universities and colleges and to augment the salaries and benefits of our men and women in uniform who are in the frontlines of the government’s war against terrorism and criminality.”
The Speaker also confirmed that the seven Makabayan bloc lawmakers have not accessed funds from Congress at all for their projects.
“We do not know where they get funds for projects for their constituents. All we know is that the communist rebels with whom they have an ideological and political affinity impose what’s known as ‘revolutionary taxation’ in areas where they operate,” he said.
Quoting the military, Alvarez said that in southern Mindanao alone, the NPA (New People’s Army) collects close to P500 million yearly in revolutionary taxes.
“This is plain and simple extortion. We have not heard from the Makabayan bloc a clear and unequivocal condemnation of revolutionary taxation, leading us to suspect that they either directly or indirectly benefit from it,” he said.
Alvarez also noted that Lagman, a leader of the opposition, has projects worth a total of P3.8 billion in his district.
“We would be very happy to hear from him where this huge funding has gone,” he said.
Earlier, Lagman said the decision to remove the funds for their projects was the product of caprice and vengeance directed against the opposition. He said the people will bear the brunt of this decision because they would be deprived of needed infrastructure projects for their districts.
Sought for comment, Lagman sent this statement on Alvarez’s remarks:
“The scrapping of infrastructure projects to zero in the districts and constituencies of dissenting solons was nonchalantly dismissed by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez as a result of the vagaries of “life”.
“This cavalier response of Speaker Alvarez is an admission that he was the mastermind of the blatant last-minute highjacking of previous allocations in the General Appropriations Bill (GAB), which was approved on third reading by the House of Representatives.
“This also reveals a discriminatory and flawed perception of life wherein partisan allies are vastly rewarded and opposition Representatives are utterly deprived, irrespective of the compelling needs of their respective districts.
“The Speaker’s mantra on life is vengeful and capricious as it disrespects responsible dissent and punishes those who espouse differing views.
“Minority positions are not appreciated and accommodated in the Speaker’s concept of life which seeks to impose servile unanimity.
“The Speaker’s claim that I proposed “P3.8-B worth of projects” is utterly preposterous. How could an opposition Representative propose and be accorded this amount of projects?
“The leadership of the House and Appropriations Committee advised me to submit, probably like most other Representatives, P50-M and later an additional P20-M for hard infrastructure projects for my district to be included in the 2018 Genereal Approrpiations Act (GAA).
“These are legitimate priority projects which are not in the nature of “pork barrel” as defined by the Supreme Court.
“It was the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) under the Duterte Administration’s “Build, Build and Build” policy which proposed and caused to be included in the President’s National Expenditure Program (NEP) the bulk of other essential infrastructure projects intended for my district which subsequently formed part of the GAB.
“What the DPWH proposed was not at my initiative or request.
“The implementation of infrastructure projects in my district is completely aboveboard and the funds are fully accounted for by DPWH and the Commission of Audit (COA).”