Lawmakers can’t touch road user’s tax funds – Suarez
House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez on Tuesday turned the tables on former Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, dismissing as a “diversion” their claims that the ruckus over the insertions in the proposed 2019 budget was an offshoot of the moves to dissolve the Road Board.
“The Road Board has nothing to do with the issue we raised. What’s the relevance of the [road users’ tax] with it?” Suarez said at a press briefing.
“I don’t know where he (Alvarez) got that idea. Congressmen cannot dip their fingers in the Road Board. We don’t have any authority [over it],” he added.
The Quezon representative also denied Diokno’s claim that he once headed the agency tasked with supervising the use of the road user’s tax, officially called motor vehicle user’s charge (MVUC).
Suarez also rejected Alvarez’s allegations that allies of Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo were just after the P45 billion in road user’s tax funds, which had ballooned under the Duterte administration.
He claimed efforts to abolish the board stemmed from the refusal of its officials to grant the request of “former House leaders” to allocate “sizeable amounts of money” for their chosen projects.
While he did not directly identify Alvarez, Suarez was obviously referring to the Davao del Norte representative, who was replaced by Arroyo in a surprise power grab hatched by President Duterte’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.
Alvarez, one of Mr. Duterte’s closest friends in the government, is the principal author of the House measure abolishing the Road Board, a notorious graft-laden agency under the Office of the President.
“The suggestion on the abolition of the Road Board came after some of the former (House) leaders had asked sizeable amounts of money from the Road Board,” Suarez said.
Threat to board officials
“The Road Board officials told me about it. They said they were being asked by some [House leaders] to dedicate certain amounts of the money. At that time, the funds were at around P40 billion,” he continued.
Suarez said the “former House leaders” then supposedly threatened the Road Board officials, “We regret that if you do not agree, we will just abolish you.”
The House minority leader said some of his colleagues also wanted to use the MVUC and the board for their “parking scheme,” a budget racket that House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. had divulged.
He then defended the existence of the board, insisting that the allegations of corruption against the agency were “baseless.”
Suarez pointed out that the Road Board was jointly headed by the secretaries of the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Transportation.
“If you abolish the Road Board, then you will lose dedicated funds to address pollution, road safety and the control of traveling vehicles,” he said.
“The (House) minority believes in the purpose and usefulness of the Road Board and the MVUC, in the maintenance of road safety and improvement of road conditions,” Suarez insisted.
He also clarified that the board was not authorized to identify projects to be funded by the MVUC, as that power was solely given to the implementing agencies.
Suarez maintained that his criticisms against Diokno should not be taken as an affront to the executive branch, but as part of the constitutional duty of the House to scrutinize government processes.
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