By Daniel Llanto | FilAm Star Correspondent
Amid complaints of blatant partisanship from minority members of the House of Representatives, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez admitted that opposition congressmen were deprived of their allocations in the 2018 national budget and the funds supposed to be for their congressional districts were instead re-aligned to education, the military and police.
Without the now abolished pork barrel system, House members are nonetheless entitled to a share in the 2018 General Appropriations Act for worthy public works projects in their congressional districts specified by the Department of Public Works and Highways. But the Duterte-controlled Congress would not give them any.
Alvarez, however, said the leader of the opposition calling itself “Magnificent Seven,” Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, has projects worth PHP 3.8 billion in his district.
“We would be very happy to hear from him where this huge funding has gone,” Alvarez said in a statement after Lagman and two other opposition members protested the sudden loss of funding for projects to benefit their respective constituencies.
Alvarez said the funds slashed from some projects of the opposition have been re-allocated to underwrite free college education in state universities and colleges and to augment the salaries and benefits of Filipino men and women in uniform who are at the frontlines of the government’s war against terrorism and criminality.
Lagman responded to this by saying that “the scrapping of infrastructure projects to zero in the districts and constituencies of dissenting solons was nonchalantly dismissed by Speaker Alvarez as a result of the vagaries of ‘life’.”
Lagman said the cavalier response of Alvarez is an admission that the Speaker was the mastermind of the blatant last-minute high-jacking of previous allocations in the General Appropriations Bill, which was approved on third reading by the House.
“The Speaker’s mantra on life is vengeful and capricious as it disrespects responsible dissent and punishes those who espouse differing views,” Lagman said.
The Albay lawmaker said 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 PHP 3.8-B worth of projects is utterly preposterous. How could an opposition representative propose and be accorded this amount of projects?” Lagman asked.
He said the House leadership and the Appropriations Committee have advised him to submit, like most other representatives, PHP 50-M and later an additional PHP 20-M for hard infrastructure projects for my district to be included in the 2018 General Appropriations Act.
“These are legitimate priority projects which are not in the nature of ‘pork barrel’ as defined by the Supreme Court,” Lagman said, stressing that it was the DPWH under the Duterte Administration’s Build, Build and Build policy which included in the President’s National Expenditure Program the bulk of other essential infrastructure projects intended for congressional districts.
“What the DPWH proposed was not at my initiative or request,” he said adding that the implementation of infrastructure projects in his district is completely aboveboard and the funds are fully accounted for by DPWH and the Commission of Audit.
Even some members of the Super Majority in the House also denounced the zero-budget allocation for districts of lawmakers critical of the House leadership. In a statement, Davao del Norte Rep. Antonio Floirendo cried for political vendetta on a personal basis.
“I am not an opposition member. This is more of a political vendetta,” he stressed.
“Alvarez’s action shows that he is more than willing to forgo the welfare of the people of Davao del Norte just so he can hit back at me,” Floirendo said.
Floirendo is one of 24 House members whose districts or constituency ended up with zero or drastically-reduced infrastructure funds after last-minute changes made during bicameral discussions on the PHP 3.767-trillion budget.
While most of the lawmakers who became “victims” of the budget cuts come from the opposition, there are at least two from the supermajority who were subjected by the House to a congressional probe after reportedly earning the ire of the Speaker.