Zero budget for anti-federalism provinces just a 'joke,' says Alvarez

HOUSE LEADER. Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez reopens the session on July 24, 2017. File photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

HOUSE LEADER. Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez reopens the session on July 24, 2017.

File photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – “Those are empty words, actually.”

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on Monday, January 22, said he was “joking” when he told a crowd in Iloilo province that provinces whose leaders oppose Charter Change would get “zero budget.”

Alam mo iyong 'pag nag-speech ka, kailangan mo ng kaunting biro-biro, di ba? Iyon lang naman iyon. Ewan ko ba kung bakit sineryoso nila,” he told journalist Karen Davila on ANC’s Headstart. (You know when you make a speech, you need to make jokes, right? That’s what it was. I don’t know why they took it seriously.)

Asked to clarify, for the record, if it really was a joke, Alvarez said: “Nagbibiro lang ako na, alam 'nyo, nagpapasalamat ako na sumali sila doon sa partido, at nagpapasalamat din ako na iyong kanilang mga representative ay nasa majority kaya nga hindi sila makakakuha ng zero budget, di ba? Hindi naman seryoso iyon, at saka iyong iba naman putak nang putak, di ba? Eh alam naman nilang hindi ko magagawa iyon.”

(I was just joking, you know, because I was just thankful that they joined the party. I was also thankful that their representatives joined the majority, that’s why they wouldn’t get zero budget, would they? I wasn't serious, but there are those who started yakking. They know that I can’t do that.)

He reiterated by saying the threat was “empty words.”

The transcript from the Iloilo event was provided to media by the House Press and Public Affairs Bureau. 

But Alvarez, in the course of the interview with Davila, later admitted that he would still be able to impose zero budgets on the areas of certain politicians but only “in his own House.” 

He said that the budget slash can still be overruled by the time it reaches the Senate.

There’s a reason why Alvarez’s “joke” about zero budgets was taken seriously: it’s precisely what happened to opposition legislators in the 2018 budget. (READ: Opposition congressmen get zero budget in 2018)

At one point during bicameral conference deliberations, the district budgets of legislators vocal against the administration and the House leadership were slashed.

Alvarez justified this by pointing out that, in the past, the House leadership would “hostage” uncooperative legislators by preventing the release of district budgets.

The Davao del Norte representative justified this by saying that, under his leadership, the House would not force lawmakers to side with them, but instead slash their budgets outright. He said this was the “essence of democracy.”

Congress is tackling proposals for Charter Change. The chambers have yet to agree on the process in which it will happen. Legislators allied with the administration and the administration itself are pushing for a shift to a federal form of government.

Not funny

The House opposition didn't find Alvarez's statements funny at all.

"Empty words or not, such statements from the Speaker reeks of vitriol and unbecoming of his position. As the saying goes, what goes around comes around," said Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin, a member of a House opposition bloc.

"Mahirap po paniwalaan ang mga ganyang pahayag, tulad ni Pangulong Duterte na pabago-bago ang mga pahayag, sa dulo natutupad pa rin na naman ang kanilang kagustuhan. Hindi po biro ang posturang parang pinagmamay-arian ang pondo ng bayan mula sa buwis na pahirap," said Anakpawis Representative Ariel Casilao. 

(It's hard to believe that sort of statement, the same way President Duterte changes his statements and, in the end, what he wants still happens. It's not funny when you act as if you own public funds that are from burdensome taxes.) – Rappler.com