Ejercito blames new leadership after House voids Road Board abolition

MANILA, Philippines – Senator JV Ejercito on Tuesday, September 25, said that the change in leadership at the House of Representatives is to blame for rescinding the proposed measure to abolish the graft-ridden Road Board.

In a forum hosted by the Vera Files, Ejercito said that both chambers of Congress understood the need to abolish the Road Board, prior to the leadership of House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

"Because of the change in leadership in the House, apparently there was a change in the position regarding the abolition of the Road Board. When the Senate adopted the House version of the abolition of the Road Board, after 30 minutes or an hour, they rescinded the bill," Ejercito said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Asked why would lawmakers at the House did that when it is already up for the President's signature, Ejercito invoked parliamentary courtesy.

"Your guess is as good as mine. We have parliamentary courtesy. I do not want to interfere with the position of the House. But we already had an understanding," the senator said.

Funds collected from the Motor Vehicle User's Charge (MVUC) go to the Road Board, supposedly for the implementation of road safety projects and maintenance and improvement of drainages.

But corruption allegations hound the Road Board, with former House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez accusing the office of extorting money from congressmen by asking for kickbacks from infrastructure projects.

The Commission on Audit earlier found that the agency misappropriated P90.7 billion in road user's tax.

Ejercito said that abolishing the agency was not a "spur of the moment" decision. They even sought for the "blessing" of Malacañang, and are now asking President Rodrigo Duterte to intervene with the House decision.

"[The proposed measure] has the blessing of the Palace. We even sought for his (Duterte's) approval. We explained that there is grave corruption in the Road Board and that's why we wanted to abolish it," he said.

"We (senators) are unanimous in supporting the abolition obecause of the bad reputation of the agency," he said.

No funds for road safety?

Under the proposed measure, management of the MVUC would be transferred to the transportation and public works departments. All collections should be deposited to a special trust account in the National Treasury.

But there were differences in the Senate and House versions, particularly on the use of the MVUC. Under the House Bill No. 7436, road safety programs will no longer be funded by the MVUC – a move that bothered the Department of Transportation (DOTr).

The House version was later adopted by Senator Manny Pacquiao, so a bicameral conference committee was no longer needed.

Transportation Assistant Secretary Mark de Leon said that without the funds, implementation of the Road Safety Action Plan would be compromised.

The Philippine Road Safety Action Plan (PRSAP) 2017-2022, he said, has projects that are yet to be funded this year and in 2019. If the road safety fund under the MVUC will be scrapped, the DOTr has to look for alternative source of funds, meaning, implementatoin will not be prioritized without the allocation.

"We (DOTr) appreciate that Senator JV is supporting our view that we need to retain the road safety fund [in] this MVUC law. Otherwise, we would have to be creative in looking for funds for our projects," De Leon said.

The action plan seeks to reduce deaths resulting from road crash incidents across the country. Latest government data showed that 10,1012 people died due to road mishaps in 2015. (READ: IN NUMBERS: Road crash incidents in the Philippines– Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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