Opposition: ‘0 budget’ move a ‘malevolent innovation’ that will ‘take its toll on the people’

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Pantaleon Alvarez
File photo of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez. INTERAKSYON

MANILA, Philippines — Opposition lawmakers slammed the withdrawal of infrastructure projects from several congressional districts a “malevolent innovation,” an “undisguised show of power” by the administration to deliver the message: “Gagawin namin dahil kaya namin. Bawal kumontra, tatamaan kahit na sino (We will do it because we can. You cannot oppose us because you will be hit whoever you are).”

“In past administrations, only the releases of the erstwhile Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) were withheld from the districts of a few ‘errant’ legislators,” Albay Representative Edcel Lagman said.

“Now, the totality of infrastructure projects under the nationwide infrastructure program of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) previously intended for the deprived congressional districts were deleted from the General Appropriations Act (GAA),” he added.

Lagman noted that the de-funded projects were not even initiated or submitted by the affected lawmakers since these were already integral to the administration’s “Build, Build, Build” policy being implemented by the DPWH.

His fellow opposition lawmaker, Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat said in past administrations, the allocations of opposition congressmen just delayed or they “usually get less for their districts while some solons get more.”

Caloocan Representative Edgar Erice said the projects ordered taken out by Alvarez in the 2018 budget were regular infrastructure projects, which went through a year-long process of approval by the DPWH.

“That’s why the president included them in the national expenditures program,” he said.

“During the Aquino administration even the districts of opposition leaders were given huge allocations,” he added.

Erice said that in the 2015 and 2016 budget, some opposition lawmakers even got bigger allocations than members of the then ruling Liberal Party.

He cited Quezon Represenative Aleta Suarez, who was with Lakas yet received billions of pesos in infrastructure projects for her district. His district in Caloocan City, meanwhile, got only P500 million.

“The rule is according to the need. Denying taxpayers their right for infra devt is discriminatory and selective. This is against the Constitution,” Erice said.

In a separate statement, Senator Francis Pangilinan, LP president, and Quezon City Representative Kit Belmonte, the party secretary general, stressed that the budget is “of, for, and by the people.”

“Galing sa tao, para sa tao, at pinamamahalaan para sa tao. Ibig sabihin galing sa buwis ng tao, para sa mga proyektong pakikinabangan ng tao, at itatalaga ng mga kinatawan ng tao, ng mga (From the people, for the people, administered for the people. Meaning it came from the people’s taxes for projects to benefit the people and chosen by the representatives of the people, the) congressmen,” they said.

That’s why however the House leadership justifies the purging of infrastructure projects of some lawmakers, this clearly will take its toll on the people,” they added. “The de-funded projects could be for housing or school buildings or flood control or access roads — projects that people of the concerned congressional districts would no longer enjoy because of disagreements among those in power. Projects paid for by people’s taxes and ensured by their votes.”

Despite the withdrawal of funding, Pangilinan and Belmonte said they are prepared to take the consequences of being in the political opposition.

Democracy, they stressed, “demands dissent. Democracy ensures space for the opposition.”

“This is the price we have to pay for standing up for democracy, and we are prepared to take the consequences. It goes with the job. We will continue to fight for the rights and interest of the people,” they said.