‘Undesirable’ 24: Dissenting solons lose pet projects
The new year may not be bountiful for a number of lawmakers as they pay the price of dissent in the 17th Congress.
Some 24 “undesirable” lawmakers were deprived of infrastructure funding for their districts or party-list constituencies as a consequence of politics or not toeing the administration line, the Inquirer learned from multiple sources on Tuesday.
The funds — amounting to P11 billion, according to one of the sources — had originally been earmarked for hard infrastructure projects in the original general appropriations bill that was subject to conference discussions between the Senate and the House of Representatives in past weeks.
Inexplicably, the items were realigned during negotiations between the two contingents, resulting in zero funding for the lawmakers, among them several Liberal Party (LP) members known for taking critical positions, as well as two House opposition factions: the so-called Magnificent Seven and the Makabayan bloc.
The Magnificent Seven refers to the group of Reps. Edcel Lagman of Albay, Teddy Baguilat Jr. of Ifugao, Gary Alejano of Magdalo, Edgar Erice of Caloocan, Tom Villarin of Akbayan, Raul Daza of Northern Samar and Emmanuel Billones of Capiz.
Lagman, Baguilat, Erice and Billones belong to the LP.
Other LP members deprived of funding, according to at least two sources, were Dinagat Islands Rep. Kaka Bag-ao, Quezon City Representatives Jose Christopher Belmonte and Jorge Banal, Quezon Rep. Vicente Alcala and Cavite Rep. Francis Gerald Abaya.
The five belong to the administration-backed “supermajority,” but have taken
adverse positions against the administration.
For instance, Belmonte and Bag-ao, members of the House justice committee, have been vocal in questioning some of the panel’s actions on the impeachment case against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
The Makabayan lawmakers are Representatives Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna, Emmi de Jesus and Arlene Brosas of Gabriela, Antonio Tinio and France Castro of Act Teachers, Ariel Casilao of Anakpawis and Sarah Elago of Kabataan.
Other lawmakers who suffered budget cuts, one source said, were Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Marcos, whose daughter, Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos, had tussled with the House leadership over alleged irregularities in the provincial government’s transactions, as well as Davao del Norte Rep. Antonio Floirendo, who had butted heads with Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.
Also included were Milagrosa Tan of Samar, Aurora Cerilles of Zamboanga del Sur and Maria Valentina Plaza of Agusan del Sur.
“They chose who to punish,” one source said. “Not just the opposition, but also the undesirable admin members.”
“But it was the people who ultimately received the punishment. Filipino constituents were disenfranchised just because they don’t like the legislators representing them.”
The legislators lost infrastructure funds to build roads, bridges and seawalls, as well as projects for river flood control, another source said.
A third highly placed source said one LP lawmaker had personally confronted Speaker Alvarez and Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas about the infrastructure cuts her district suffered and gave them an impassioned plea about staying true to her beliefs.
She was told, according to the source, that every action has consequences, and that she ought to be aware of how to fix the situation.
On the infrastructure cuts, Fariñas referred all questions
to House appropriations committee chair Karlo Nograles, who led the House contingent to the conference.
Fariñas was in Russia when the conference discussions were taking place.
Nograles did not respond to the Inquirer’s request for comment. Alvarez also did not respond to questions about the cuts.
Tinio, one of the Makabayan lawmakers, said his group had never accessed any of the funding for individual lawmakers, which he described as “hidden pork,” and thus he was not personally affected by the last-minute cuts.
But Tinio added: “From other conversations with other representatives, it seems that is what happened. Individual allocations have been cut out and probably allocated elsewhere.”
Tinio said the problem was that, technically, these funds were earmarked for districts or constituencies—not to individual lawmakers, making it hard to prove.
“Officially all of this does not exist because the items are for the district. That’s the beauty of hidden pork. It is officially deniable,” he said, adding that most items would be in amounts less than P2 million.
Pork barrel finance pet projects of lawmakers.
Tinio said the retaliatory cuts differed from the approach of previous administrations.
“During the time of [Gloria Macapagal]-Arroyo and [Benigno] Aquino [III], the fund remained there, but you just wouldn’t release it. It was carrot-and-stick,” Tinio said.
Now, “the carrot is gone for this year,” he said. “That is why we have to wait and see if the affected lawmakers will be silent or moderate” for the next budget cycle, he said.
No copy of the conference report ratified by the two chambers of Congress has been made available to the public.
Two other lawmakers contacted by the Inquirer deferred comment, saying they wished to wait until the General Appropriations Act of 2018 had been officially released upon signing by the President.
The House and the Senate ratified the P3.767-trillion national budget last week. It was signed by President Duterte on Tuesday.
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