Zero-budget threat a ‘joke’
“Those are empty words, actually.”
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has soft-pedalled on his threat to defund the districts of representatives who do not go along with the administration’s push for Charter change, saying that was just a “joke.”
“You know, when you make speeches, you need to joke a little, right? That’s just it. I don’t know why they took it seriously,” Alvarez said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel program “Headstart.”
While he could defund certain districts when the General Appropriations Act is “in my House,” the Senate could restore the funding since it deliberates the budget bill after the House passes its version, he said.
“They know I couldn’t do that… because it goes to the Senate,” Alvarez said. “Those are empty words, because I cannot do that alone.”
“How can I be a bully, right?” he said, adding that
he only sounded like he was blackmailing his colleagues “because that’s how the others interpret it.”
Alvarez said previous administrations also withheld the release of the funds even if they were included in the annual budget law.
The Speaker made the “joke” during the oathtaking of new members of the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan in Iloilo last Thursday.
“Of course, those provinces that do not want to go along, oh, zero budget,” Alvarez said in his speech. “I don’t force anyone. If you do not want to join us, okay, I respect your rights. But I say, you have to respect my right to give you zero budget, right?”
That pronouncement struck a nerve with critics of the House’s moves, especially since 24 “undesirable” lawmakers just recently ended up losing infrastructure funding for their constituents in the 2018 national budget.
Evidently, some opposition lawmakers were not amused by Alvarez’s recent statement.
Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat Jr. of the Magnificent Seven bloc said “it’s not a joke to make an area with taxpaying Filipinos suffer and give them a ‘zero budget’ just because the powerful thought of threatening and scaring the opposition.”
“It’s not empty words when Filipinos, such as upland indigenous communities in the Cordillera, suffer from political whims,” Baguilat said.
‘Reeks of vitriol’
Another opposition lawmaker, Akbayan Party Rep. Tomasito Villarin, said “such statements from the Speaker reeks of vitriol and unbecoming of his position.”
Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao of the left-wing Makabayan party-list bloc said “it would be hard to believe” such claims since he acted “like President Duterte, whose pronouncements change a lot only for their whims to be followed anyway.”
“It’s not a joke to pose as if they own the people’s funds coming from burdensome taxes,” Casilao said. “Don’t treat public funds as if [these were] a private ownership.”
ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio thought Alvarez was just bluffing and “using the Senate as an excuse to walk back his threat.” —VINCE F. NONATO
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