House caves in, vows to pass 'better' Road Board abolition bill

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The House of Representatives finally gave in to demands of President Rodrigo Duterte and the Senate to pass a bill abolishing the Road Board.

House Majority Floor Leader Rolando Andaya Jr, on Saturday, December 22, said that the lower chamber's leadership changed its mind after hearing Duterte himself say he still wants the agency abolished.

"The President has spoken. We heard his message to the House. We will act based on his guidance. As an institution, we will heed the President's call," said Andaya in a statement sent to media.

Though the House now agrees, in principle, with the need to abolish the Road Board, Andaya says it still does not accept the Senate’s version of the bill. That bill, however, was actually the House bill approved when Pantaleon Alvarez was still Speaker. The Senate just adopted it.

Under Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the House, however, rescinded that same bill approved under Alvarez, leaving moves to dissolve the Road Board in limbo.

The Road Board is an office that is supposed to evaluate proposals on transport-related projects to be funded using road users' tax, formally know as motor vehicle user's charge (MVUC).

Andaya said, "If the President will send a better bill and certify it as urgent, the House, convinced of its merits, will approve it without delay." 

He, however, said the House will only support a bill that has the following features:

End of impasse

The House's decision brings the government closer to solving the impasse on the Road Board's abolition.

The lower chamber, under the leadership of Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, rescinded its earlier approved bill dissolving the office.

Arroyo's allies accused Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno of reserving billions' worth of road users' tax for allies of the Duterte administration. Malacañang dismissed this allegation as "nonsense."

Andaya himself had claimed that Duterte did not want the Road Board abolished. But on Friday, Duterte himself announced he wants the agency, riddled with corruption allegations, gone.

In doing so, Duterte sided with the Senate, which had already adopted the House's version (under ousted speaker Alvarez) of the Road Board abolition bill.

Thus, by rejecting the Senate bill, the House – now under Arroyo – is also rejecting a bill that had already been previously approved in their chamber.

The abolition of the Road Board has been the subject of controversy because of the question of control over funds. Now worth around P45 billion, MVUC funding can be requested by lawmakers for transport-related projects in their areas of jurisdiction. (READ: Lawmakers, engineers request P5B in road users' tax funds)

Through the years, the Road Board has been accused of misusing the funds. The Commission on Audit, for instance, found that the agency misappropriated P90.7 billion in road users' tax.

With elections approaching, there are fears that the funds would be used for partisan purposes. 

Palace 

Malacañang took note of the House Majority Leader heeding the call of President Rodrigo Duterte to abolish the Road Board and the road users' tax. 

“Congressman Andaya is finally in touch with reality, contrary to his claim that Secretary Diokno and I were out of touch with the President in the matter of the latter's position on the road users' tax and abolition of Road Board,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a statement Saturday.

“We are pleased to know that the House of Representatives has listened to the voice of the people who have long been outraged by the corruption surrounding the use of the said tax,” Panelo added. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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