Speaker goes on offense to defend cuts to opposition projects

Speaker goes on offense to defend cuts to opposition projects

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on Wednesday alluded that opposition lawmakers has links with communist rebels that costed them their budget meant for their constituents for 2018. Pantaleon Alvarez released

MANILA, Philippines — House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez (Davao del Norte) on Thursday defended the cuts in funding for projects of opposition lawmakers by implying some have ties with communist rebels.

Alvarez, in a statement, said that the Makabayan bloc has not been receiving funds from the House of Representatives in the first place. The House leader also implied that the party-lists may have been getting money from communist rebels with whom they are ideologically aligned.

"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," Alvarez said.

The House speaker, an outspoken supporter of President Rodrigo Duterte, was reacting to reports that certain lawmakers had not been allocated funding for projects in their districts or for their constituencies.

Among the lawmakers who did not get funding for projects are members of the Makabayan bloc and of the moribund Liberal Party.

The Makabayan bloc is composed of members of the ACT Teachers, Gabriela, Bayan Muna, Anakpawis and Kabataan party-lists. The bloc has seven seats in the House and are identified with the national democratic movement. Support for and membership in activist groups, however, does not equate to membership in the Communist Party of the Philippines or the New People's Army.

On Wednesday, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said that administration "allies will get more" from the 2018 budget.

Alvarez, citing military reports, said that "in southern Mindanao alone, the [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 revolution taxation, leading us to suspect that they either directly or indirectly benefit from it," Alvarez also said.

President Rodrigo Duterte, as early as October, started accusing opposition groups of committing rebellion.

In a televised speech, he accused transport group Piston (Pinagkaisahang Samahan ng Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide), human rights group Karapatan and labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno of committing rebellion alongside the Communist Party of the Philippines, which advocates armed struggle and has been trying to put up a revolutionary government since 1969.

On December 6, Duterte signed a proclamation labeling the CPP-NPA as terrorists groups. Among the grounds the chief executive used in justifying his request to extend martial law in Mindanao for another year is the continued clashes of the government against the NPA.

READ: Why Duterte's 'red-baiting' of activists is dangerous

Lagman's funding

The House speaker also raised doubts on where funding for Rep. Edcel Lagman (Albay)'s district goes.

"Let me point out that [Lagman], a leader of the opposition in the Congress, has projects worth a total of P3.8 billion in his district. We would be very happy to hear from him where his huge funding has gone," Alvarez said without elaborating.

Lagman is a member of the House of Representative's "Magnificent Seven" that has had rows with the the House "supermajority" of allies of President Rodrigo Duterte on certain issues like martial law and extrajudicial killings.

The opposition lawmaker —  on behalf of the 24 or so legislators who have been stripped of yearly allocations for projects for their constituents —  said Wednesday that the zero allocations are "projected to punish and silence opposition legislators."

Lagman added that "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 under the Build, Build, Build scheme."

Budget allocated to education, military

Alvarez further defended the budget slash as he said that funding would go to basic services for the citizens.

"I also wish to emphasize 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 front lines of the government's war against terrorism and criminality," Alvarez also said.

"If there's money, then I'll see to it that it would be properly allocated. 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," the speaker also said.

President Rodrigo Duterte signed the General Appropriations Act of 2018 on Tuesday.

The budget for the following year is about 12.4 percent more than the P3.35-trillion budget for 2017.

A copy of the signed 2018 GAA is yet to be released by the government as of reporting.

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