Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Clavel's Pork

22 opposition solons got road users tax funds, too--lawmaker

Maila Ager Lira Dalangin-Fernandez ldalangin@inq7.net

CONTRARY to their claims, opposition legislators at the House of Representatives also benefited from the road users' tax, with at least 22 receiving a total of 399.395 million pesos or 20 percent of the 2.2 billion-peso fund, a colleague disclosed Tuesday.

Some of them are Cebu Representative Clavel Martinez, 37.8 million pesos; Nueva Vizcaya Representative Rodolfo Agbayani, 30 million pesos; Davao City Representative Ruy Elias Lopez, 29 million pesos; Laguna Representative Justin Chipeco, 20 million pesos;

South Cotabato Representatives Darlene Antonino-Custodio and Arthur Pingoy, 15 million pesos; 10 million pesos each for House Minority Floor Leader Francis Escudero, Taguig-Pateros Representative Alan Peter Cayetano, and Quezon Representative Proceso Alcala; and 7.6 million pesos for Bukidnon Representative Nereus Acosta, according to Mindoro Occidental Representative Amelita Villarosa.

"There are 236 congressmen, 22 minority members received 399.395 million pesos, more or less 20 percent of the total budget. Considering that the 22 solons are only 10 percent of the total number of congressmen, they got twice," said Villarosa, an ally of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who secured a copy of the figures from House records.

"If you will base this on a ratio -- like 10 percent of 200 Solons -- they should get at least [a] 10 percent allocation but in this case they got 20 percent," according to Villarosa who made the disclosure a day after Iloilo Representative Rolex Suplico and Bayan Muna party-list representative Teodoro Casiño accused the President of using the road users' tax to buy votes against her impeachment.

Suplico and Casiño had complained that they were not given proceeds from the road users' tax.

But Villarosa said there were also pro-administration lawmakers who did not get any budget, among them, Speaker Jose de Venecia, justice committee chairman Simeon Datumanong of Maguindanao, House Deputy Speaker for Visayas Raul del Mar, Surigao del Sur Representative Prospero Pichay, Bukidnon Representative Juan Miguel Zubiri, Cebu Representative Antonio Cuenco, Eastern Samar Representative Marcelino Libanan, and Leyte Representative Eduardo Veloso.

"This was prepared not according to politics or some favors but rather to address the road requirements all over the Philippines," Villarosa said.

Nueva Vizcaya Representative Rodolfo Antonino also pointed out that the special allotment release order for the road projects were requested on June 6 or even before lawyer Oliver Lozano filed an impeachment complaint against the President on June 27.

"For me, I consider it foul that the opposition is using this issue in order to discredit their own colleagues in Congress," Antonino lamented.

"I think that 's very wrong for them to use issues like this at any expense -- even at the expense of their own colleagues in order for them to achieve the single purpose that they are always trying to achieve and that is to discredit and bring down the administration of President Arroyo," he said.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita described the opposition lawmakers' complaints as "preemptive action" to stop the President from allegedly using the funds to woo support against the impeachment complaints.

Earlier on Tuesday, Budget Secretary Romulo Neri is considering reviewing the tax measure.

Neri said he had been approached by both pro-opposition and pro-administration lawmakers complaining about the funds' release.

"That's why I think it needs to be reviewed," he said on radio.

The President ordered on Monday the suspension of the release of the funds by the Department of Public Works and Highways, which Neri said could have been prompted by a problem in the distribution of the Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) to the different engineering districts.

The road users' tax fund is sourced from the taxes consumers pay when they purchase gasoline or diesel and when vehicle owners register their vehicles, according to Neri.

Neri said the Department of Budget and Management releases the funds to the Department of Public Works and Highways.

The Road Board, using a formula for apportioning these funds based on the road density and the condition of the road, decides which areas to prioritize for maintenance, Neri said.

The basis of distribution is the engineering districts rather than congressional districts, he added.

Ideally, Neri said lawmakers should not have a hand on the funds.

"Dapat wala [They should have no involvement], because it's based on engineering districts," he said when asked if lawmakers could meddle in the funds' release.

"But this could not be helped because the congressmen would like to know what infrastructure projects [are there] that cover their congressional districts," he said.

In a separate interview, Road Board director Rodolfo Puno said 80 percent of the fund goes to preventive road maintenance while the rest are used for road safety devices, anti-pollution, and local road components.

In 2004, the Road Board collected 7.2 billion in road users' tax. This year, Puno said they collected an estimated 8 billion pesos.

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