Diokno: Lawmakers eyeing road users’ tax for campaign

Aika Rey

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Diokno: Lawmakers eyeing road users’ tax for campaign
(3rd UPDATE) Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno fires back at members of the House of Representatives accusing him of corruption

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno on Wednesday, December 19, accused lawmakers from the House of Representatives of being interested in using road users’ tax for the 2019 elections.

The budget chief told reporters that some lawmakers had approached him to ask about the release of the road users’ tax, but he stood firm on not releasing the funds.

“Alam naman ‘nyo, election time. Inaasahan ata nila ‘yung [tax from] road users na ma-release ‘yun para magamit nila sa kampanya. But I tell you, we will not release,” Diokno said in an economic briefing at Malacañang.

(You know, it’s election time. They’re probably expecting the release of the road users’ tax so they can use the funds for their campaign. But I tell you, we will not release.)

Diokno also pointed out that using the funds for other matters is “not allowed,” and yet lawmakers “always find a way” to do so.

“Marami nang lumapit sa ‘kin. I won’t name names na politiko na tinanong [ang] status ng road users’ tax. Sabi ko, hindi ko re-release ‘yan until that issue on the Road Board is settled,” he added.

(Many have approached me. I won’t name those politicians who asked about the status of the road users’ tax. But I told them, I won’t release that until the issue on the Road Board is settled.)

The Commission on Audit earlier found that P90.7 billion worth of road users’ tax had been “misappropriated.”

A bill abolishing the graft-ridden Road Board was earlier passed by Congress, but the House revoked its approval when Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo assumed leadership. Congressmen now insist that they will not abolish the Road Board, putting them at odds with senators.

Favored contractor? Diokno said the corruption allegations hurled at him are merely “diversions” by the House.

Diokno is under fire for supposedly favoring CT Leoncio Construction and Trading, and for the P75-billion “insertion” in the proposed 2019 budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez linked CT Leoncio to Diokno. 

But the budget chief said the House minority leader merely wants to “divert” the attention as most of the Road Board funds were allegedly misused when Suarez headed the agency.

“He’s trying to protect the Road Board. He’s the author of the road users’ tax. Siya rin ‘yung namayagpag no’ng time ni GMA (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo). Naging head ‘yan ng Road Board (He dominated during the time of GMA. He was the head of the Road Board),” Diokno said.

‘Insertion’ in DPWH budget? Meanwhile, Diokno said the P75-billion “insertion” brought up by House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr is also meant to divert the public’s attention from discrepancies in the National Expenditure Program (NEP) and the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) found by Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson.

“Ngayon nakita ni Ping ‘yung discrepancies sa President’s budget (NEP) and the GAB. Bakit may dagdag sa district ni GMA at ni Andaya? Ngayon ako ang binabanatan…. The first attempt is to divert attention sa GAB. Pinapaliwanag sa kanila ‘yun, ayaw nilang magpaliwanag. Kaya ako ang tinira nila, ‘di ba?” Diokno said.

(Ping saw the discrepancies between the NEP and the GAB. Why are there additional funds for the districts of GMA and Andaya? Now they’re taking a swipe at me…. The first attempt is to divert attention from the GAB. They were asked to explain, but they don’t want to. That’s why they’re attacking me, right?)

Diokno reiterated that the P75 billion represents “adjustments” to meet the government’s infrastructure spending target, pegged at 5% of the projected gross domestic product.

Public Works Secretary Mark Villar also said he was aware of the additional budget, and that this was not an insertion as claimed by Andaya.

The P75 billion was included in the NEP, which was passed to the House of Representatives after President Rodrigo Duterte’s 3rd State of the Nation Address last July. It is the basis of the GAB being deliberated by Congress.

Sought for comment on the allegations against lawmakers, Andaya on Wednesday did not directly say whether or not lawmakers benefited from the road users’ tax.

Andaya said: “Siya (Diokno) ang releasing officer ng road users’ tax. Miyembro siya ng board, so kung ikaw mismo humihingi ng abolition, ibig sabihin, hindi mo kaya ang trabaho mo.”

(He’s the releasing officer of the road users’ tax. He’s a member of the board, so if he’s asking for the abolition, it means he can’t do his job.) 

Why are congressmen against the abolition of the Road Board? In a statement on Thursday, December 20, Andaya said Diokno should “stop giving alternative facts” about the House’s refusal to support the abolition of the Road Board.

Andaya insisted that the rescinded House bill, from which the Arroyo House leadership withdrew is support, did not completely dissolve the 7-man Road Board.

Andaya said the bill gives the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the Department of Transportation (DOTr), and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) absolute control over the funds without oversight. 

“Ano ang kinalaman ng basura sa  motor vehicles at isiningit  at iginiit ito? (What does garbage collection have anything to do with motor vehicles, that [the bill] would insist on this provision?)” Andaya asked.

“Kung seryoso sa reporma, sana isinama ang MMDA bilang recipient kasi nasa Metro Manila ang bulto ng sasakyan. Pero saan inilagay? DENR. Kasi may pera sa basura,” he added sarcastically. (If they are serious about reforms, then they should have included the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority as recipient [of the fund] because bulk of the vehicles is in Metro Manila. But where did they want to place the funds? With the DENR. Because there’s money in garbage.)  Rappler.com

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Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.