Congress ends deadlock on Road Board abolition

MANILA, Philippines – After a weeks-long standoff, the Senate and the House of Representatives arrived at a compromise on the bill abolishing the graft-riddled Road Board.  

The House approved the amended House Bill (HB) 7436 on second reading on Wednesday, January 16, a day after House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr met with Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri to discuss the measure.

Buhay Representative Lito Atienza, however, manifested on the floor that there was a lack of quorum, arguing there were only 85 lawmakers present. But he did not question HB 7426's approval anymore, and merely moved to adjourn session as soon as the bill was approved.

The House secretariat had declared that 163 lawmakers were supposedly present.

Prior the House's second reading of the measure, Andaya and Zubiri confirmed that they agreed to make the following amendments to the bill:

The Senate already approved the Road Board abolition bill, adopting the same version that the House previously passed under ousted speaker Pantaleon Alvarez. But when Pampanga 2nd District Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo became the new Speaker, the House withdrew its support for the bill.

Following the latest agreement among Congress leaders, Andaya said the House plenary decided to take up HB 7436 as a tax measure and approved it on 2nd reading. He estimated its approval on 3rd and final reading by the House either on Monday, January 21, or Tuesday, January 22.

Under the law, the House has to appove tax bills first  before senators can tackle them.

The Senate, for its part, would recall its earlier adoption of the House version and then call for a bicameral conference committee to thresh out differences between the two versions. Andaya said the bicam would likely be convened next week.

However, it remains to be seen if the bill, including the new allocation for MVUC, would make it to the 2019 national budget, which is currently pending in the Senate.

“This is, again, a tax measure. We also want to make sure, since pagkukunan ng pondo ito, na iyong pagkolekta ng MVUC matutuloy pa rin. Kasi kung papatayin mo lang ‘yong bill, wala ka nang kokolektahin (funds would be drawn from this, that the mVUC collection would continue. If you just kill the kill, you have nothing to collect),” said Andaya.

“It's not just a law creating a Road Board. It is actually a tax measure na incidental lang 'yung creation ng Road Board (where the creation of the Road Board is incidental),” he added.  

Andaya and Zubiri met after Duterte said he wanted the Road Board abolished to allow a portion of the road user's tax to fund the Manila Bay rehabilitation, needs of hospitals, and programs for victims of the recent Tropical Depression Usman. 

On Monday, Andaya said the new bill would still mandate the use of MVUC for road maintenance projects “but in certain exceptions it could be tapped for calamity stricken areas.” But he said Duterte must first give his approval before the road user’s tax funds can be used for the rehabilitation of calamity-stricken areas.

The Road Board has long been accused of corruption. The Commission on Audit earlier found that the agency misappropriated P90.7 billion worth of funds from road user's tax collections. In 2018, congressmen and district engineers requested P1.958 billion worth of projects under the Road Board, but the money was not released to them. – with reports from Camille Elemia/Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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