Alvarez: ‘Undesirable’ lawmakers lost infra funding due to politics
An unapologetic Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez confirmed on Wednesday that 24 “undesirable” lawmakers lost infrastructure funding for their constituents in the 2018 budget due to politics, saying they ought to understand the name of the game in the 17th Congress.
“You win some you lose some. They should understand that you can’t have your cake and eat it too,” Alvarez said in a phone interview with the Inquirer.
The Speaker, a bosom buddy of President Duterte, said the House leadership’s policy of removing funding and projects from non-allied members was no different from previous administrations.
“It’s a question of leadership. I have to take care of my members,” Alvarez said.
He said some allies belonging to the administration-backed “supermajority” had raised complaints about certain districts getting more funds in spite of the lack of cooperation of their representatives.
“You know that would be unfair to members who are cooperative,” Alvarez said.
Among those whose infrastructure projects were scrapped in the final General Appropriations Act of 2018 were members of the Magnificent Seven and Makabayan opposition blocs, as well as a number of Liberal Party (LP) and administration allies who were not in the good graces of the House leadership.
The local infrastructure funds had originally been approved on third reading in the House version but were taken out and realigned during conference discussions between the Senate and the House. The final version ratified by the two chambers was signed by Mr. Duterte on Tuesday.
The total funds involved, which had been described as “hidden pork barrel,” could not immediately be verified pending the official release of the budget law but one Inquirer source claimed it amounted to P11 billion.
Alvarez acknowledged that previous Congress leaders had typically taken a different approach in appropriating funds for allied or non-allied House members, in which the funds would be included in the budget, but would only be released if they were cooperative.
“In the past, the leadership would fool the members by adding the funds in the budget but the executive would not release these. I don’t want to fool them like that,” he said.
Alvarez offered no apologies to the constituencies of the affected lawmakers who would bear the brunt of the retaliatory budget cuts.
“That’s their own fault. They better talk to their congressmen,” he said.
The Speaker also confirmed that Dinagat Islands Rep. Kaka Bag-ao had pleaded with him on behalf of her district upon learning of the infrastructure cuts. He said he gave the same response.
“That’s life,” he said.
Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas clarified that Bag-ao had not “confronted” him and the Speaker, as earlier reported by the Inquirer, but he did have a polite exchange with the congresswoman about the budget cuts.
“Rep. Bag-ao politely approached me during our last session on Wednesday with the report she heard about the [General Appropriations Bill] and was seeking confirmation from me,” he said.
Fariñas said that upon Bag-ao’s request, he got confirmation of the infrastructure cuts from House appropriations chair Karlo Nograles, relayed the information to her, and told her to see the Speaker. “She talked with the Speaker but I didn’t hear their conversation,” he said.
Bag-ao has not issued a statement on the matter.
Also on Wednesday, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat Jr., and Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin, who belong to the Magnificent Seven group, separately issued statements assailing the House leadership’s actions.
“Why punish citizens and communities for the earnest and valiant efforts of their Representatives to maintain responsible dissent as the bedrock of democracy?” Lagman said.
“Zero allocations are projected to punish and silence opposition legislators even as it is their constituencies who are deprived of the benefits of infrastructure development,” he said.
Lagman said a great majority of the deleted appropriations were not for so-called “pet projects” but are for essential infrastructures intended for congressional districts under the government’s “Build, Build, Build” program.
“These were not even requested by the affected Representatives and were included upon submission by DPWH in the President’s National Expenditure Program (NEP) on which the annual General Appropriations Bill (GAB) is entirely based,” he said.
Baguilat said: “My constituents in Ifugao are taxpayers too. The allocations would have improved the national roads to the rice terraces and poor upland communities.”
“We in the opposition are not in Congress to obstruct but rather our role is to raise a howl when wrong is being committed and give praise when it is warranted,” he said.
Villarin said the retaliatory cuts indicated “pure hubris” on the part of the House leadership.
“Punishing democratic dissent by letting people suffer through withdrawal of basic government services is pure hubris. The alacrity by which said punishment was imposed reveals the dictatorial nature of the House leadership and the vengeful mindset of the Duterte administration,” he said.