Lawmakers, engineers request P5B in road users’ tax funds

MANILA, Philippines – House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr bared a list showing that legislators’ requests for projects under the road users’ tax funds managed by the graft-riddled Road Board has reached P1.958 billion as of 2018.

At least 6 lawmakers – two senators and 4 district and party-list representatives – confirmed Andaya’s statement that while the budget requests were approved by the Road Board, no funds have been released yet. 

Also included in Andaya’s list are requests made by 32 district engineerings and two regional directors. Together with the requests of lawmakers, the unreleased funds from the Road Board are equal to P5,345,450,237.7.

Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Benjamin Diokno – a member of the Road Board – explained that he had been withholding the release of the funds because lawmakers are allegedly interested in using the money for the 2019 elections

But Andaya – who has been accusing Diokno of being the mastermind behind alleged insertions in the 2018 and the proposed 2019 budgets – said the DBM chief is reserving the funds for the campaign of administration allies.

“Puwede talaga. Kasi, as of today, pirma na lang niya kulang to release. Ma-abolish [man] ang Road Board, siya pa rin ang mag-release. Win-win yan sa kanya. Nillito niya kayo,” Andaya said in a text message on Thursday, December 20.

(It’s really possible. Because, as of today, only his signature is missing for the release to happen. Even if the Road Board is abolished, he will still be the one to release the funds. It’s a win-win for him. He’s confusing you.)

Malacañang, however, already tagged Andaya’s claim as “nonsense.”

But just how much in taxpayers’ money is involved here? At least P1,958,280,983.78, based on Andaya’s list. 

The list: The list Andaya presented to reporters this week involves a total of two senators and 42 representatives who allegedly made various road maintenance budget requests in different provinces through the Road Board.

How does the Road Board work? The Road Board was established by Republic Act 8794 in 2000 under then-president and now Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The board is meant to manage and use the funds from motor vehicle user’s charge (MVUC) or road users’ tax, as the agency does not get allocation from the national budget. 

The Road Board is a collegial body composed of the secretaries of the DBM, Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Transportation, and Department of Finance as ex-officio members, and 3 representatives of private transportation organizations.

The road users’ tax is meant to be used for road maintenance and air pollution control projects only. 

The tax collections from the MVUC go to 4 special trust accounts created by the National Treasury:

Road Board officials have long been accused of graft, with a Commission on Audit finding that the agency misappropriated P90.7 billion in road users' tax.

This was the reason President Rodrigo Duterte and senators sought to pass a bill that would abolish the Road Board. The House of Representatives had passed the same measure on 3rd and final reading during the term of bill author and ousted speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

But after Alvarez was ousted by Arroyo as Speaker, the House plenary withdrew its support for the Road Board abolition bill. (READ: Senate leaders ask Duterte to intervene as House voids Road Board abolition)

Andaya said he had a “private conversation” with Duterte himself, where the President “said categorically [to] resume releases of MVUC.” This is contrary to what Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo and senators are saying about Duterte's support for the Road Board abolition.

Senators’ requested before decision to abolish Road Board: Both senators Franklin Drilon and Juan Edgardo Angara confirmed to Rappler that they indeed requested for the projects listed beside their names in the table above.

But Angara clarified their requests were made before Duterte and Congress agreed that a bill must be passed to abolish the Road Board.

“We voted with the rest of the Senate for the Boards abolition. Any requests for projects were made before the President and Congress worked for abolition,” he said.

Drilon told Rappler he made the request to release P16 million for the lighting program for the Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr Avenue, saying funding for projects like this can be sourced only through the road users’ tax. 

“I made the request during PNoy’s (ex-president Benigno Aquino) term, only because funding of national road lighting can be sourced only from road users’ tax, not from GAA (General Appropriations Act). I had no knowledge of Road Board action, but project was not implemented and no funds were released,” Drilon told Rappler.

Angara also confirmed requesting 3 projects in the Aurora with a total worth of P86 million together with his aunt, Aurora Representative Bellaflor Angara Castillo, sometime in 2016.  

Like Drilon’s request, no funds were disbursed for the guardrails along A. Castañeda-Ma. Aurora-San Luisa Road and the Baler-Casiguran Road, as well as the asphalt overlay project along Baler-Casiguran Road.

More unreleased funds by Diokno?

Surigao del Sur 2nd District Representative Johnny Pimentel also confirmed the non-release of the P40 million he requested for an asphalt overlay project along Surigao-Davao Coastal Road and another P19.36 million for road signs along the same area. 

He shared Andaya’s belief that the reason the funds were not released was because Diokno supposedly is reserving the money for administration bets in 2019.

Pimentel even alleged that Diokno did not release a total of P4.2 billion worth of road users’ tax funds. 

“Actually, I did my own investigation and I found out a total of P4.2 billion of projects, which were duly approved by the Road Board and were submitted to DBM for the release of funds, but for unknown reasons, Secretary Diokno has withheld the release…. I should know this because I constantly followed it up with DBM but to no avail,” said Pimentel.

Cibac Representative Sherwin Tugna confirmed he had requested sometime in 2017 for a P10 million worth of drainage improvement project along the Baliwag-Candaba Road in Central Luzon.

But he countered Diokno’s accusation that he allegedly wanted to use the money to fund his 2019 campaign. Tugna pointed that he is ending his 3rd term as congressman next year, and he is not seeking an elected office in the polls. 

He added that Cibac has won for 3 consecutive elections in Baliwag, Bulacan, where residents had told him they needed an improvement in their drainage system.

“Pati legislator naman na nag-request talaga sa discretionary fund na lehitimo ay dinadamay niya, ina-associate niya na korap. [That’s] unfair,” said Tugna. (He is implicating us legislators who requested through a legitimate discretionary fund, linking us to corruption. That’s unfair.)

Mistakes in the list, Andaya's theory wrong: One glaring mistake in Andaya’s list, however, involves the 9 road maintenance projects that Pampanga 3rd District Representative Aurelio Gonzales Jr supposedly requested for, amounting to P52.054 million. 

Gonzales told Rappler he had not made any budget requests through the Road Board, citing the corruption allegations thrown at the agency. He believes his name was being used for someone else’s benefit. 

Di ko alam bakit nandiyan yan. Ginamit yong pangalan ko. Ginagamit lang tayo. Nakakagalit din eh.... Maganda [sana] kung ibigay na lang sa bagong kalsada [yong pera],” said Gonzales. (I don’t know why my name is there. They are using my name. This makes me angry…. It would have been better if the money will just be used to fund new roads.)

Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin also refused to believe the fund requests were withheld by Diokno for the benefit of administration allies. 

Villarin explained the release of funds ultimately rests on the DBM. He then hit Andaya, whom he  accused of using the road users’ tax funds as a way to get back at opposition legislators during the presidency of Arroyo. Andaya was Arroyo’s budget chief. 

“It’s really discretionary on the part of DBM and the administration whom to give these funds. Congressman Andaya’s suspicion is also based on his experience during the presidency of Speaker GMA as budget secretary when opposition legislators projects’ funding were not released. So the shoe is on the other foot,” said Villarin.

Villarin admitted that he had asked for P12.599 million for an asphalt overlay project along Butuan City-CDO, but he wanted the line item to be included in the 2018 General Appropriations Act. He ultimately did not get the funds, as then-speaker Pantaleon Alvarez gave zero infrastructure allocations for opposition lawmakers in 2018.

llocos Norte 1st District Representative Rodolfo Fariñas, who was majority leader under Alvarez, also said his district did not receive any Road Board funds. 

But he slammed Andaya for saying the non-release of Road Board funds is detrimental to Congress. He criticized the current House leadership for standing firm on its withdrawal of support for the Road Board abolition bill. 

“What he (Andaya) ‘believes’ cannot be ‘proof’ but pure opinion or conjecture. Secretary Diokno categorically stated that the executive department believes that the Road Board is usurping the power of the legislature to appropriate public funds. Hence, it shares our approved bill calling for the abolition of the Road Board,” said Fariñas. 

“The law creating and empowering it to decide on the use of such public funds is an undue delegation of legislative powers. Anyway, since the HOR has approved its abolition, with the Senate giving its concurrence, and the President saying he will approve such bill, why is the present House leadership so desirous to keep it alive?” asked Fariñas. 

Unreleased road users’ tax funds must be returned to the National Treasury. As lawmakers and Diokno continue to point fingers at each other, Filipino taxpayers can only wonder what services could have been funded instead by a discretionary fund of such dizzying amount. – 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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