Palace officials said the President is bent on abolishing the Road Board amid long-standing accusations of corruption.
KJ Rosales
Palace: Duterte wants Road Board scrapped
Jess Diaz, Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - December 19, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate and the House of Representatives are on a collision course over the abolition of the Road Board, as the upper chamber moved a step closer to having the proposal approved and signed  by President Duterte by transmitting it to Malacañang. 

Palace officials said the President is bent on abolishing the Road Board amid long-standing accusations of corruption.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III transmitted the bill to Malacañang along with a resolution passed last week by the chamber urging the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) not to release at least P45 billion in collections from the motor vehicle users’ charge (MVUC) administered by the board.

The bill was received by the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office, which will send the measure to Duterte’s desk for his signature.

“As far as we’re concerned (the Road Board) is abolished. Now if (House members) force their position, maybe the issue should be brought to the proper venue,” Sotto told reporters.

The transmittal of the measure was prompted by presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo’s assertion that Malacañang has not yet received the bill for Duterte’s signature.

Panelo made it clear Duterte remains supportive of efforts to abolish the Road Board.

“Yes. That’s what is needed. We want the funds be returned to the treasury and let Congress appropriate again for a specific purpose,” Panelo said when asked about Duterte’s position on scrapping the body.

Panelo said Duterte would sign the bill abolishing the Road Board “as soon as it is given to him.”

But House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. told reporters that President Duterte had promised to release Road Board funds, which budget chief Benjamin Diokno estimated at P45 billion.

“I had a private conversation with D30 (Duterte). He said categorically releases of MVUC will resume,” Andaya said in a text message.

He did not say when he talked to the President or when the funds would be released.

At last Tuesday’s Question Hour, Diokno said Duterte had directed him not to release any money because the President was for the abolition of the Road Board.

Andaya said the House, where the measure originated, would not transmit the proposed law to Malacañang because the chamber had withdrawn its approval of the abolition bill.

The bill was approved under the leadership of former speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

Senators maintained the House could not withdraw its approval because the measure was already under the jurisdiction of the Senate.

The inclusion of the Senate resolution adopted last Thursday in the transmittal was apparently meant to bolster the chamber’s position as well as to block any MVUC fund releases allegedly being pushed by outgoing House members.

“Time and the Executive is on our side, they’re (DBM) not going to give it or release it (funds) anyway,” Sotto said.

The Senate passed its version last February while the House approved its counterpart bill in May. The two chambers convened the bicameral conference committee to reconcile conflicting provisions of their versions of the measure.

However, last September, upon motion of Sen. Manny Pacquiao, the Senate decided to simply adopt the House version to hasten the transmittal of the measure to Malacañang.

The House, which had a tumultuous change in leadership in late July, wrote the Senate trying to recall the measure. 

Sotto said when Congress opens session on Jan. 14 and the Senate resumes deliberations on the proposed budget, it will move to have the MVUC funds placed in the annual General Appropriations Act for more transparency in its disbursement.

Under the present set up, the fund is treated as an off-budget item or beyond the reach of congressional scrutiny.

When asked of a possible deadlock if the House would insist on having its way, he said: “I hope not. If there’s a deadlock, we’ll have a reenacted budget for the whole year.”

 Bicam unncessary

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon earlier said since the chamber already adopted the House version, “the House lost jurisdiction over the bill and could no longer validly reconsider its approval of the measure which will abolish the Road Board.”

Drilon said the Senate’s decision to adopt the House version of the bill “rendered a bicameral conference unnecessary.”

Sen. Francis Escudero cited two ways to resolve the impasse between the Senate and the House, one political and the other, judicial.

Under normal circumstances, all that needs to be done by both chambers is to prepare the enrolled bill and transmit it to Duterte for his signature.

“If the House refuses to sign the enrolled bill, PRRD (Duterte) can direct his allies in the House to do so, otherwise, a case for mandamus can be filed to compel the House to sign the enrolled bill, given that it had already previously approved it,” Escudero said in a text message.

Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito called for the immediate resolution of the impasse as the fund is meant for projects to improve road infrastructure and safety.

For House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez, the Road Board remains in operation.

“As far as we are concerned, the board has not been abolished. Speaker GMA (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) has recalled the abolition bill before the Senate adopted it,” Suarez told a news conference yesterday.

Suarez also denied the claim of Diokno and Alvarez that the alleged desire of House members to control Road Board funds is behind the lawmakers’ attack on the budget secretary.

“I don’t know where the former speaker got that information. It’s not the House that controls the billions in funds of the board. It’s Secretary Diokno, Secretary Carlos Dominguez (of finance), Secretary Arthur Tugade (of transportation), Secretary Mark Villar (of public works and highways) and other Cabinet members sitting in the board,” he said.

He said if there are irregularities in the allocation and use of agency funds, “it is these Cabinet members who should be blamed, not us, because we have nothing to do with those funds.”

He claimed that Diokno is using the Road Board controversy “to divert public attention away from the issues of budget insertion and his favored contractor that are hounding him.”

In a related development, Andaya said the embattled budget chief’s own underlings are squealing on him. 

“Not only mayors are spilling the beans on anomalous budget practices within the DBM. Now, insiders within the department are providing us with information related to questionable budget allocations in the Bicol region,” he said.

Quoting his informants, Andaya said contracts for infrastructure projects “started to be bid out as early November 2017.”

“The bidding took place even as Congress was still deliberating on the 2018 budget submitted by the DBM,” he said.

“I don’t know why Secretary Diokno was rushing to download the funds. We are now learning that this happened not only this year but last year as well,” he said.

Andaya earlier said Diokno’s in-laws cornered P550 million worth of contracts. The budget secretary has said he has not given his in-laws any favor. 

Meanwhile, Panelo said lawmakers are free to file charges if they see anomalies in the 2019 budget.

“The budget is just a proposal. It’s for them to go over it, if they see any irregularity, it’s for them to correct it. And if such irregularity amounts to a crime, then it is its duty to recommend filing charges against the wrongdoer,” Panelo said at a press briefing.

The passage of the proposed P3.757-trillion national budget for 2019 has been delayed as the budget department and some lawmakers continue to trade barbs over the alleged unauthorized insertions in the expenditure program.  –  with Alexis Romero

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