Alvarez says budget slash for opposition is ‘essence of democracy’

Bea Cupin
'Hindi kita pinipilit, karapatan mo 'yun. Magsalita against the administration, okay go ahead. Pero mayroon din akong karapatan, huwag mo rin akong pigilan,' says the House Speaker

HOUSE LEADER. Pantaleon Alvarez leads a supermajority in the House of Representatives. Rappler file photo

MANILA, Philippines – In December, he defended depriving opposition lawmakers of district budgets for 2018 as a way to fund newly-created programs of the Duterte administration: full tuition subsidy in state colleges and universities and the salary increases for uniformed personnel

Now, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez says the budget slash is the “essence of democracy,” pointing out that the practice of withholding allocations for legislators not allied with the administration was done under past presidents.

What makes their move different, said Alvarez, was that they weren’t holding anyone “hostage.”

Ang pinagkaiba lang, ganito: ‘yung mga previous administrations, including the last one, ‘yung budget hindi tinatanggal, nandiyan pa rin. Kaya lang ginagawa nilang pang-hostage ‘yun. Okay, ‘kung hindi ka sasama sa akin, hindi ko ire-release ‘yung budget mo.’ Ayaw ko ng ganyan,” he said in an interview with Karen Davila on ANC’s Headstart on January 3, Wednesday.

(The difference is this: in previous administrations, including the last one, the allocation wasn’t removed from the budget, it was still there, but it was used to take the legislator hostage: “Okay, If you don’t join us, I will not release your budget.” I don’t like doing that.)

Instead, the Davao del Norte representative said, the House leadership decided to be more “transparent” and stayed true to the principles of democracy. (READ: Malacañang denies hand in budget cuts for opposition lawmakers)

“If you don’t want to be with us, then you have no budget,” said Alvarez.

“But isn’t that the same? That’s taking them hostage,” said Davila.

Pero, at least, wala, hindi ko sila hino-hostage. Hindi ko sinasabi sa kanila na sumama ka sa akin, hindi ba?” he said. (But at least I am not taking them hostage. I’m not forcing them to join me, right?)

Allocations cut

For 2018, the House apparently ordered the budget cut at the bicameral conference committee level, during deliberations between House appropriations chairman Karlo Nograles and Senate finance chairman Loren Legarda.

The cut apparently affects district legislators who belong to independent opposition blocs, Liberal Party members in the majority, and legislators in the majority who have bad major tiffs with Alvarez and Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas. (READ: Davao del Norte district budget cut is Alvarez’s ‘political vendetta’ – Floirendo)

The budget cut and its details have yet to be verified independently, however, since a copy of the 2018 budget is not yet readily available.

Pressed by Davila if the move “killed” democracy because cutting district budgets, in effect, still forces a legislator to side with the House leadership, Alvarez insisted it wasn’t.

“That is the essence of democracy. Hindi kita pinipilit, karapatan mo ‘yun. Magsalita against the administration, okay, go ahead. Pero mayroon din akong karapatan, huwag mo rin akong pigilan. I will also exercise my right, that is the essence of democracy. That is not dictatorship,” he said.

(We are not forcing you because it’s your right. You want to speak against the administration, go ahead. But I also have my rights, you cannot stop me.)

Lawmakers have cried foul over the cut, pointing out that the cuts ultimately affect their constituents and not themselves.

“They have to be answerable to their constituents. Because remember, they are representatives, right? They’re called representatives…they represent their people, they do not represent themselves,” said Alvarez.

The cuts supposedly affect infrastructure projects including roads and flood prevention programs. – Rappler.com

Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.