MANILA, Philippines – The Senate vowed to speed up the passage of the bill seeking to abolish the “corrupt” Road Board after officials of the agency evaded a Senate hearing on Monday, September 18.
Senate finance committee chairperson Loren Legarda received a letter from the Road Board, signed by Executive Director Luisito Clavano, saying its officials could not attend the budget hearing.
Clavano also told the panel that they are now under the Office of the President (OP) and no longer under the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). Legarda asked DPWH Secretary Mark Villar, who serves as the chairman of the board, if he is aware of the reorganization. Villar said he is not.
Legarda was “irritated” with the Road Board’s gesture, saying a mere letter could not supersede the law that created it.
The Road Board was established under Republic Act 8794, which imposed a motor vehicle user’s charge (MVUC) on owners of motor vehicles. The board is meant to manage and use the funds from the MVUC, as the agency does not get allocation from the national budget.
“The author of the law is not so smart after all. [We gave the] Road Board the power to allocate, it’s very clear. That’s why they can be arrogant and not come to the [budget] hearing,” Legarda said on Monday.
“I’m asking Secretary Villar and the liaison office who delivered this letter to me just now to bring the Road Board here, and I want to know what is the history of this letter, telling us in the face of the secretary that they are no longer under him,” Legarda said.
Corruption allegations hound the Road Board, with House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez accusing the office of extorting money from congressmen by asking for kickbacks from infrastructure projects. Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and other senators have also filed a bill seeking the board’s abolition.
The Commission on Audit (COA) also earlier found that the agency misappropriated P90.7 billion in road user’s tax.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know even know characters. I’m not saying they’re thieves, I’m saying that is the general perception. I’m just irritated because this letter from the executive director thinks they can supersede the law. What are they hiding?” Legarda said.
Senator Francis Escudero, who was beside Legarda, was heard saying, “Clearly, they are avoiding the budget deliberation.”
‘I can find you’
Legarda accused the Road Board of hiding behind Malacañang but said she has other ways to “find” them.
“Now they’re telling us it’s all under Malacañang and we are not supposed to look into that. Of course we can look into it. It’s under OP, so I will hear the OP budget again. Maski saan sila magtago, kaya ko silang hanapin (Wherever they hide, I can find them),” Legarda said.
With the Road Board’s “arrogant” action, senators are now more keen on expediting the measure abolishing it.
“We in unison are speaking out. The corrupt agency has to be abolished. There should be a one-fund concept, even [Budget] Secretary [Benjamin] Diokno agrees,” Legarda said.
Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri brought the issue up during the plenary session and asked the chamber to compel Clavano to attend the budget hearing in the afternoon.
Senate leaders, however, opposed it, saying they have no authority over Clavano because the Road Board does not get allocation from the national budget.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III just moved that the chamber speed up the bill abolishing the board.
“May I suggest to the good sponsor, we are with him, maybe we can show by fast-tracking the abolition of the Road Board, given their attitude. There will be unanimity on this measure,” Drilon said.
“Let’s just abolish it. I move that the manifestation of Senator Zubiri, the Majority Leader, and the Minority Leader be referred to the committee on public works to fast-track the bill,” Sotto said, referring the issue to the panel led by Senator Manny Pacquiao. – Rappler.com