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42 House reps, 2 senators seek release of P1.9-B road tax funds

Forty-two members of the House of Representatives, almost all of them allies of President Rodrigo Duterte, and two senators had asked the Road Board for a total of P1.98 billion in funds raised through road user’s tax, according to documents released to the media by House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr.

According to Andaya, the records came from the Road Board, which is at the center of the political wrangling between Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno and allies of Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

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The list tended to support Diokno’s claim that House members had been opposing moves to abolish the Road Board because they wanted to access the P45-billion Road Board fund to bankroll their 2019 campaign for Congress.

Diokno’s ‘lies’

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The records, however, showed that neither Andaya nor House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez had submitted projects to be funded by the road user’s tax, also known as motor vehicle user’s charge (MVUC), contrary to Diokno’s claims.

“These documents clearly contradicted the lies being peddled by Diokno,” Andaya said.

Diokno claimed that his decision to withhold the release of  MVUC collections since last year had put him in a collision course with the Arroyo-led House.

“Because you know it’s election time. They probably were expecting the road user’s tax fund to be released so they could use these in the campaign,” Diokno said.

The documents, which had the heading “requests for Saro,” or special allotment release order, also did not show Arroyo as one of those who had sought funding from the Road Board.

Andaya’s predecessor, Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, topped the list with the most funding requests, at P277.4 million, while PBA Rep. Jericho Jonas Nograles came in second, with P255 million.

Nograles had also asked for another P150 million from the Road Board, along with fellow PBA Rep. Mark Aeron Sambar for an asphalt road overlaying project in Cagayan de Oro City.

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Quit immediately

Reached by phone, Suarez said the Road Board records should prompt Diokno to quit  immediately, as these “proved that he was lying.”

“As I have told you, I did not request anything from the board. What Diokno has been saying are all lies,” Suarez said.

“Delicadeza dictates that he should resign because he has become an embarrassment to this administration,” he added. “His most scandalous act was the allotment of billions of pesos to Sorsogon, where his in-laws are incumbent elected officials.”

Also on the list were opposition Sen. Franklin Drilon, who asked for P16 million for road lighting in Iloilo, and administration Sen. Sonny Angara, who asked for a total of P86 million worth of projects together with his aunt, Aurora Rep. Bellaflor Angara-Castillo.

Likewise on the list were Cavite Rep. Abraham Tolentino, brother of former Presidential Political Adviser Francis Tolentino, with a request for P150 million; North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco, with P100 million; and Surigao del Norte Rep. Francisco Jose Matugas II, P94 million.

Deputy Speaker Prospero Pichay Jr., who had asked for P60 million worth of projects, was the only close political supporter of Arroyo on the list.

Road Board abolition

Sought for comment, both Fariñas and Nograles claimed that they were not aware that they had requested such huge funding allotments from the Road Board.

Fariñas, a known ally of ousted Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, said Department of Public Works and Highways Region 1 Director Ronnel Tan told him that his office did not receive road user’s tax money.

Fariñas also said that he and Alvarez were among the principal sponsors of the House bill dissolving the Road Board, which the Senate had adopted to hasten its enactment into law.

Andaya earlier claimed that “former House leaders” had threatened Road Board officials that they would work for the agency’s abolition if they would turn down their requests for funding.

“I guess you could clearly see that if such list was accurate, I would have been one of the most interested to keep the Road Board existing. But we initiated its abolition,” Fariñas said.

Nograles, brother of Secretary to the Cabinet Karlo Nograles, said he had never seen the Road Board documents before, adding that the agency should authenticate them.

“I have referred many projects nationwide to all agencies, including the Road Board. It is entirely up to the agencies to act on my referred projects,” he said. “I do not know if there are approvals or disapprovals by the agencies.”

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