By Camile A. Aguinaldo, Reporter
PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte wants to use the road user’s tax collected by the Road Board to fund infrastructure and flood control projects aimed at improving Bicol region’s preparedness against disasters.
“I strongly recommended the abolition of the road tax. It’s really a milking cow for corruption. Maybe it will be continued. Maybe the money can be used here,” he said in a situation briefing on the aftermath of Typhoon Usman in the Bicol region.
“I’ll commit to you that the very first project that will be undertaken under that fund, if it’s transferred to DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) or to agriculture, I’m okay with it. We’ll start with (Bicol),” he added.
The measure that would abolish the Road Board remained pending in Congress following the conflicting positions of both chambers of Congress on this matter.
The bill also seeks to transfer the road user’s tax, also known as the motor vehicle user’s charge (MVUC), to be remitted directly to the National Treasury and to be appropriated for projects of the DPWH, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and Department of Transportation (DoTr).
He also said he will talk to Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III and House Speaker Gloria M. Arroyo on the matter.
For his part, Albay Rep. Joey S. Salceda, who was also present in the situation briefing, said, “The road tax has an economic philosophy. It’s supposed to provide continuous funding of maintenance in order to prolong the life of our roads. If we shift it to another purpose, we have to continuously seek and compete for other funds within the GAA (General Appropriations Act) framework….We should dedicate it (to) road maintenance, Mr. President.”
Mr. Duterte floated the idea after raising concerns of persistent flooding in the region. He also backed the proposal of Interior Secretary Eduardo M. Año and Office of Civil Defense Undersecretary Ricardo B. Jalad to construct permanent evacuation centers in the localities.
“Every typhoon, calamity that would need evacuation of people, the public schools really suffer. And it causes aberration in the schooling of children. In the matter of building some structures to accommodate evacuees, maybe General (Eduardo D.) Del Rosario (of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council) can give us a blueprint of that… You can go around and study… It can only be used for evacuation purposes and keep people safe,” Mr. Duterte said.
Mr. Año also proposed a long-term program that would relocate families living in landslide prone-areas in response to the government’s findings that landslides largely caused many casualties during typhoons.
Department of Science and Technology (DoST) Undersecretary for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Renato U. Solidum, Jr. also noted that while climate change played a role, the frequency of landslides was also caused by roads made from erodable materials.
“Another concern of government is to make sure that the roads that we developed would have ample slope protection, second, also drainage, and thir,d prohibit those who build houses near the roads (in the mountains),” he said.
Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund F. Villafuerte, Jr. also suggested that the national government dredge the Bicol River to solve or to minimize floodings in the area.
For his part, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol called for a review of all the country’s major river systems.
DPWH Undersecretary Rafael C. Yabut said the DPWH, Department of Environment and Resources (DENR) and NEDA (National Economic and Development Authority) are planning to update the World Bank’s Bicol River Basin Development Feasibility Study, which was first introduced in 2003.
“We bid out the consultancy for this preparation of the masterplan and revisit…the Bicol River Basin as mentioned by Congressman Villafuerte. And hopefully, we will able to award next the revisit of the master plan,” he said.
Before the briefing, Mr. Duterte conducted an aerial inspection of the damage caused by the typhoon in the Bicol region.
According to a report by Mr. Jalad, the total death toll of the typhoon climbed up to 122, with 28 missing, and 60 others injured as of Jan. 3.
Mr. Piñol also reported that the estimated damage to agriculture totaled P801 million as of Jan. 3, with more than 37,000 affected farming and fisherfolk families.
Agriculture production loss is also estimated at 18,763 metric tons, with rice fields largely affected.
Meanwhile, Mr. Duterte’s hometown of Davao City is set to send P10 million worth of cash and relief goods, as approved by the city council, to areas declared under a state of calamity following Typhoon Usman.
“The P10 million will come from the QRF (Quick Response Fund),” City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (CDRRMO) Chief Alfredo Baluran said in a statement.
The city has a P130.8 million QRF for 2019, which can be used for disasters in the city and to provide aid to other local government units.
Mr. Baluran said each of the provinces of Oriental Mindoro, Sorsogon, Albay, Camarines Sur, and Camarines Norte will receive P1 million in cash assistance.
The remaining P5 million will be given in the form of cash or relief goods to flood and landslide victims who are still in the evacuation centers. He also said the city may release more assistance depending on the final assessment of the storm’s impact. — with a report by Carmencita A. Carillo