Debate on infra allocations sparks word war over House speakership

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 18 2020 03:30 PM

MANILA — The chairman of the House committee on appropriations defended Friday the bigger infrastructure budget allocated for Taguig City, where separate districts are represented by House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and his solon spouse, after a lawmaker questioned it in a previous hearing. 

ACT-CIS Party-list Rep. Eric Go Yap, the House budget panel chair, said he saw nothing anomalous if Taguig, home to the country's several military camps, would get over P11 billion worth of projects from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), as alleged by a lawmaker.

"Iyung Taguig kasi karamihan doon FLR (for later release) eh kaya hindi mo siya masasabing new projects. Iyun 'yung mga last year na project na imbes na mapunta this year na 2020, nangyari may mga FLR nilagay sa 2021. Kung titignan mo ang new projects ng Taguig di po siya ganun kalaki especially mga kampo, mga bases po nakakarga po lahat 'yun [doon]," Yap told ABS-CBN News in a phone interview. 

(For Taguig most of the [allocations] are FLR (for later release) that's why you can't say these are new projects. Those were the projects last year that, instead of being placed under this year, there was FLR indicated for 2021. If you look at the new projects of Taguig, it's not that big especially since it covers military camps and bases.)

Negros Oriental 3rd District Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. in an earlier budget hearing confronted officials of the DPWH about rumors he heard that Taguig and Camarines Sur (CamSur) were getting the largest slice of their budget pie for next year. 

The two districts of Taguig are ran by Speaker Cayatano and his wife Lani. 

Meanwhile, one of CamSur's districts is represented at the House by close Cayetano ally Rep. LRay Villafuerte. Villafurte's son, Migz, is also the province's governor. 

HEARSAY

Teves' accusation did not sit well with Villafuerte.

Villafuerte, in a statement Thursday, called Teves a "rumormonger" for raising concerns based on "hearsay."

"In the first place, it does not befit an honorable gentleman like Congressman Teves to act like a blab or gossipmonger in spreading what he himself had admitted to be plain hearsay... Why peddle something malicious that he himself knew wasn't factual?" said Villafuerte. 

Villafuerte then linked Teves' accusation with an alleged plot concerning the House Speakership.

"It is clear as day that Congressman Teves has launched this chicanery on the basis of mere hearsay as part of the sinister ploy hatched by the Velasco camp, in cahoots with former Negros Occidental Rep. Alfredo Abelardo Benitez, to wreck Speaker Cayetano's commitment to fast-track the approval of the 2021 GAA by hopefully finishing the committee and plenary deliberations on the budget in record time by end-September," Villafuerte said. 

He described Teves as the "protege" of Benitez, the former solon "who has delusions of being a kingmaker to Velasco and titular head of the Visayas bloc of legislators even if he was no longer an incumbent representative from Negros."

Under a "gentleman's agreement," Cayetano is set to hand the reigns of the lower chamber's top post to Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco in October.

Villafuerte also saw nothing wrong if his and Cayetano's districts get a larger infrastructure budget.

"CamSur has five districts. So assuming it were true that CamSur has P11.8 billion in DPWH funds under the proposed 2021 GAA, that is almost the same amount, when divided among five CamSur districts, as the P2 billion that he himself revealed was set aside by the DPWH for his district in Negros Oriental. So what harm has been done to him and to his legislative district when it is getting P2 billion-worth of public works projects?" Villafuerte stressed.
 
'OVERACTIVE IMAGINATION'

Benitez, the former lawmaker, challenged Villafuerte to be "transparent."

"My challenge to LRay Villafuerte. Put your money where your mouth is. You accuse Cong. Teves of making accusations based on hearsay but what you are doing is worse. Totally baseless and a figment of your overactive and defensive imagination. If you have nothing to hide, explain to the Filipino people why the national government has to shoulder the construction of your Provincial Capitol that costs more than P420 million," he said in a statement.

"If the good Congressman is morally certain that his budget will pass the public’s scrutiny, then prove us all wrong. Be transparent with your own district’s budget. Account for every peso and centavo," he added. 

Villafuerte has yet to respond to Benitez's comments.

Meanwhile, Yap said his committee will resume deliberations on the DPWH budget on Monday.