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Solons argue over funding entitlements.

By Ben Rosario

Key leaders of the House of Representatives have dampened the Christmas spirit as they escalated their feud over funding entitlements for multi-million peso infrastructure projects in their respective congressional districts.

As the observance of the day of joy, charity and reconciliation neared, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez bickered with heads of two independent opposition blocs who have been wailing over the scrapping of funds for the members of their respective groups that are critical of the Duterte administration.

But Alvarez tried to turn the tables on Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, head of the Liberal Party-backed "Magnificent Seven," and ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio who had chided the speaker for his role in the alleged deletion proposed funding for district infrastructure projects proposed by House critics of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Congress observers warned that the pre-Christmas controversy sparked by 2018 allocations for congressional funds may yet trigger another legal controversy before the Supreme Court.

It will be recalled that the High Court had struck as unconstitutional the multi-billion peso Priority Development Assistance Fund divided among senators and congressmen, with the usual exception of critics of the current government administration.

In a statement, Alvarez accused Lagman of cornering R3.8 billion worth of infrastructure projects for his congressional district.

"We would be very happy to hear from him where this huge funding has gone," the House leader said.

He also clarified that the Makabayan bloc, a group of seven partylist lawmakers sympathetic to the local communist movement NDF-CPP-NPA, is not entitled to infrastructure funding because as party-list representatives they lack specific district constituents.

Hitting back at Makabayan leader and ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio, Alvarez hinted that while it is true that Makabayan has not accessed Congress funds, it is not also showing interest in putting an end to "revolutionary taxation" being imposed by the communist orgnaizations.

"We do not know where they get funds for projects for their constituents. All we know is that the communist rebels with whom they have an ideological and political affinity impose what's known as "revolutionary taxation" in areas where they operate," he said.

In a series of press statements, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, head of the Liberal Party-backed Magnificent bloc," accused Alvarez, head of the Duterte-allied "supermajority." of being the mastermind behind the denial of opposition access to infrastructure funds that can support their congressional districts.

The scrapping of infrastructure projects to zero in the districts and constituencies of dissenting solons was nonchalantly dismissed by Speaker Pantaelon Alvarez as a result of the vagaries of 'life'," said Lagman.

Alvarez allegedly engineered a "blatant last minute hijacking" of previous allocations in the 2018 General Appropriations bill that was passed by the Lower House.

The veteran opposition lawmaker also decried as "utterly preposterous" Alvarez's accusations that he had proposed R3.8 billion worth of projects in Albay.

But Alvarez said the slashed funding from opposition and some supermajority member solons have been re-allocated to "free college education in state universities and colleges."

A portion was also re-directed to "augment the salaries and benefits of our men in uniform."

It was gathered that aside from the Magnificent Seven, seven other solons belonging to the Palace-backed supermajority were affected by the infrastructure budget slash.

The Magnificent seven is composed of Liberal Party Reps. Teddy Baguilat (Ifugao); Raul Daza (Northern Samar); Emmanuel A. Billones (Capiz) and Edgar Erice (Caloocan City) and Lagman; Party-list Reps. Gary Alejano (Magdalo Party-list) and Tom Villarin (Akbayan).

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Title Annotation:Metro
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Dec 21, 2017
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