By Minde Nyl R. dela Cruz
OPPOSITION LAWMAKERS who will be getting zero infrastructure allocation next year said the removal of their budget was an act of “revenge” and “punishment” by the ruling party in the House of Representatives.
The General Appropriations Act for 2018, contained under Republic Act (RA) No. 10964, was signed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte last Tuesday, Dec. 19, along with RA 10963 or the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act (TRAIN).
Albay Representative Edcel C. Lagman, who leads a bloc of independent opposition lawmakers called the “Magnificent 7,” said the discarded projects are “for essential infrastructures intended for congressional districts in the 2018 National Infrastructure Program of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) under the ‘Build, Build, Build’ scheme.”
Mr. Lagman added that the projects “were in the [General Appropriations Bill] which was approved on third reading by the House of Representatives but were surreptitiously deleted during the bicameral conference on the national budget reportedly upon instructions of Speaker Pantaleon (D.) Alvarez.”
“What is worse is that highways and bridges for completion in 2018 would be left hanging and unfinished,” Mr. Lagman said, saying that most of the rejected projects have already been bid out.
Likewise, Ifugao Representative Teddy B. Baguilat, Jr. said the removal of the project is “an assault on democracy.”
“Exacting revenge on the genuine opposition solons by removing projects dedicated not to them but to their citizens shows their desire for autocracy, for dangerous dictatorship,” Mr. Baguilat said, adding that opposing views should not be “quelled.”
He added: “The budget should be looked at objectively to make sure that taxpayer money goes where it is needed the most, and not used as a reward for those who will blindly follow the administration’s wishes, whether right or wrong.”
For his part, Akbayan Representative Tomasito S. Villarin said: “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 mind-set of the Duterte administration.”
ACT Teachers Representative Antonio L. Tinio, meanwhile, called on fellow opposition lawmakers to keep voicing out their dissenting views.
“To my colleagues in the opposition affected by the ‘zero budget,’ the time for laying low is over. Let more voices of dissent be heard in Congress,” Mr. Tinio said.
He said that the defunding of infrastructure projects proves the continued existence of the pork barrel system under the Duterte administration.
Mr. Tinio also belied the allegations that he and the other members of the Makabayan bloc are some of the lawmakers whose infrastructure projects are affected.
“Consistent with our stand against the pork barrel system, we have no infrastructure projects. We submitted no proposals for infrastructure projects,” Mr. Tinio said.
Sought for comment, House committee on appropriations chair Karlo Alexei B. Nograles, who also led the House contingency at the bicameral conference, said all questions regarding the 2018 budget should be addressed to the House Speaker.
Mr. Alvarez, however, has not responded to queries as of press time.
Among the lawmakers reportedly not going to receive appropriations are members of the independent opposition bloc and the Makabayan bloc, five members of the Liberal Party, and five other district representatives, namely:
1. Albay Representative Edcel C. Lagman
2. Magdalo Representative Gary C. Alejano
3. Ifugao Representative Teddy B. Baguilat, Jr.
4. Capiz Representative Emmanuel A. Billones
5. Northern Samar Representative Raul A. Daza
6. Caloocan Representative Edgar R. Erice
7. Akbayan Representative Tomasito S. Villarin
1. ACT Teachers party-list Representative Antonio L. Tinio
2. ACT Teachers party-list Representative France L. Castro
3. Gabriela party-list Representative Arlene D. Brosas
4. Gabriela party-list Representative Emmie A. de Jesus
5. Anakpawis party-list Representative Ariel B. Casilao
6. Bayan Muna party-list Representative Carlos Isagani T. Zarate
7. Kabataan party-list Representative Sarah Jane I. Elago
1. Cavite Representative Francis Gerard A. Abaya
2. Quezon Representative Vicente J. Alcala
3. Dinagat Island Representative Kaka J. Bag-ao
4. Quezon City Representative Jorge B. Banal
5. Quezon City Representative Jose Christopher Y. Belmonte
1. Zamboanga Del Sur Representative Aurora E. Cerilles
2. Davao Del Norte Representative Antonio R. Floirendo, Jr.
3. Ilocos Norte Representative Imelda R. Marcos
4. Agusan Del Sur Representative Maria Valentina G. Plaza
5. Samar Representative Milagrosa T. Tan