Alvarez: House row with Diokno about control of road user’s tax
Lawmakers have earned and stand to earn huge kickbacks from road projects funded by the P45-billion road user’s tax controlled by the Road Board, which Malacañang and the Senate want abolished against the wishes of the House leadership, former Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said on Sunday.
The allies of Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo wanted to control the proceeds from the tax officially known as the Motor Vehicle User’s Charge (MVUC), which is overseen by the corruption-plagued Road Board, Alvarez said.
That is the reason the allies of Arroyo picked a quarrel with Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno over insertions in the P3.8-trillion proposed national budget for 2019, he said.
Motive for saving Road Board
“Res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself),” Alvarez said of the motive behind the House move to rescind a measure abolishing the Road Board, which had triggered the back-and-forth accusations of pork insertions in the spending bill.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III agreed that the road user’s tax could be considered “big pork,” but said the Senate would try to keep the fund safe from any sinister intentions.
“It could be the big pork but as long as [the Department of Budget and Management] knows we were abolishing [the Road Board] and resists the call for release, it will remain safe,” Sotto said in a text message.
Spilling the beans on what he called a multibillion-peso scheme, Alvarez described how Road Board funds were being used as a “big lump sum,” unlike line items in the budget that were itemized and less prone to corruption.
“The extortion is shocking,” Alvarez, speaking in Filipino, told the Inquirer by phone.
The Davao del Norte representative, who was ousted by Arroyo’s allies in a power grab in July, accused Road Board officials of conspiring with representatives to extort from handpicked contractors 30 to 40 percent of the total cost of projects as commission.
“This translates to billions of pesos collected from Road Board money. They are peddling it,” Alvarez said.
In cahoots with congressmen
Road implements, such as cat-eye reflectors, metal railings and asphalt overlay, would be overpriced by staggering amounts, then the Road Board, in cahoots with House members in whose district the project fell, could “collect” from their favored contractor, he said.
Alvarez noted that House members were the ones who could identify specific projects to be funded by the MVUC.
“It’s congressmen, not senators,” he said, without naming names.
“The Road Board already has its list of contractors from which they could take their pick,” he added.
“Cheap projects would balloon to P500 million, then they would get [a kickback] of 30 to 40 percent,” he said.
Alvarez said House leaders and their allies could potentially get more kickbacks, considering the Road Board was now at the House’s mercy.
“Now they need the House to stay alive,” he said.
He said the rescission of the passage of the Road Board abolition was “authored” by one of Arroyo’s top allies, Minority Leader Danilo Suarez, who headed the agency during Arroyo’s presidency.
“Now he’s a major player in the leadership. He is the author. He is the one requesting everyone not to abolish the Road Board, even though the Senate is saying it should be abolished, and the executive branch is saying it should be abolished,” Alvarez said.
Asked to comment, Sotto said: “He (Alvarez) knows better than I do when it comes to the goings on in the . . . House.”
In May, the House, under the leadership of Alvarez and with the blessing of the Office of the President, approved his bill abolishing the Road Board.
The Senate passed its own version of the bill four months earlier.
But in September, the senators, upon sensing a change in the air after Arroyo took over the speakership, decided to adopt the House version instead of reconciling the conflicting versions in conference.
The House countered the move by voiding its third-reading approval of the bill, leaving the measure in limbo.
Diokno, who was accused by House leaders of inserting P75 billion in the budget to favor his relatives in Sorsogon province, said he earned the House’s ire when he refused to release the proceeds of the MVUC to Congress on President Duterte’s instruction.
But House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. said he suspected that Diokno would release the funds, which he estimated would balloon to P60 billion from P45 billion, only to favored allies in the 2019 midterm elections.
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