House won’t abolish graft-ridden Road Board, says Andaya

Mara Cepeda
House won’t abolish graft-ridden Road Board, says Andaya
Senators are urging President Rodrigo Duterte to sign into law the bill that would scrap the graft-ridden agency that oversees the funds from the road users' tax

MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives stands firm on its support for the retention of the graft-ridden Road Board. 

House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr reiterated the stand of the House on Tuesday, December 18, as senators once again urged President Rodrigo Duterte to sign into law the bill that would scrap the agency that oversees the funds from the motor vehicle user’s charge (MVUC) or road users’ tax.  

“To rescind, it takes an enrolled bill signed by the Speaker [Gloria Macapagal Arroyo]. That is not forthcoming, for the plenary has withdrawn support. Speaker cannot sign the enrolled bill. No authority,” Andaya said in a text message. 

The Camarines Sur 1st District congressman added that he supposedly had a “private conversation” with Duterte himself, where the President “said categorically [to] resume releases of MVUC.” 

This is despite Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo’s statement on Tuesday that Malacañang still backs the abolition of the Road Board. 

“Yes. Iyon ang kailangan eh (That’s what’s needed). We want the funds be returned to the treasury and let Congress appropriate again for a specific purpose,” said Panelo in a press briefing.

On December 13, senators also approved a resolution urging the Office of the President and the Office of the Executive Secretary not to release funds from the road users’ tax because Congress has, “in effect,” passed a bill that will abolish the Road Board.

What is the Road Board? The Road Board was established under Republic Act 8794 in 2000 under then-president and now Speaker Arroyo. The board is meant to manage and use the funds from MVUC, as the agency does not get allocation from the national budget. 

Road Board officials have long been accused of graft, with a Commission on Audit finding that the agency misappropriated P90.7 billion in road user’s tax.

The Senate first approved Senate Bill (SB) 1620, seeking to abolish the Road Board, on February 12, 2018. On May 15, the House, then under the leadership of bill author and ousted speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, approved counterpart measure House Bill (HB) 7436.

There were conflicting provisions between the two bills, so a bicameral conference committee had to be convened to reconcile them.

Fast forward to September 12. The Senate adopted HB 7436 to replace SB 1620. This meant that a bicam was no longer needed and the bill was up for enrolment for Duterte’s approval.

But on the same day, Andaya made a motion during the plenary that voided the House approval of the measure. There was no objection and the motion was implemented. (READ: Ejercito blames new leadership after House voids Road Board abolition)

Why this matters: Andaya has accused Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno of reserving the road users’ tax funds to help the campaign of administration allies in the 2019 elections.

This is just the latest allegation of the House leader against Diokno, whom lawmakers are accusing of using his influence as budget chief to help CT Leoncio Construction and Trading to bag billions worth of infrastructure projects nationwide. This includes projects in Sorsogon, where the vice governor is the mother in law of Diokno’s daughter.   

Panelo, however, denied Diokno is using the MVUC to help administration bets’ campaign bids in the 2019 polls, calling the accusation as “nonsense.”

Diokno, who already denied the charges against him, continues to enjoy the trust of both Malacañang and other Cabinet members.

The House is set to conduct a probe starting January 3, 2019, to dig into the alleged budget insertions in the 2018 and 2019 budgets. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.