HOUSE Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has rejected the granting of “blanket emergency powers” being sought by Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade after expressing disappointment over the agency’s failure to concretely address traffic problems during the first 100 days.
“To be honest, I am not satisfied with the agency’s performance. The concrete reforms should have been put in place yesterday…. Blanket emergency powers are out of the question,” Alvarez said during a hearing of the House committee on appropriations chaired by Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexie Nograles.
Alvarez chided transport officials for their lackluster performance as he questioned their ties and possible conflicts of interest.
At the budget hearing, Alvarez grilled Tugade and other transport officials and asked why they had “nothing concrete” to report on reforms that President Rodrigo Duterte had ordered.
“It is a must that in the first 100 days, in so far as the department is concerned, the public should see many changes. We see no concrete actions. We cannot just wait for what the agency plans to do,” Alvarez said.
“I am worried and concerned because this has been repeatedly announced by the President that concrete change must be had and be felt by the public in the first 100 days.”
Alvarez also expressed dismay after he learned that of the 80 airports nationwide, only the Davao International Airport had been visited by Tugade’s department to check on the problems in the past two months.
“I had to ask how many airports had been visited because there is such a thing as budget preparation so how would you know how much is to be allocated for each airport if you haven’t even checked each one? I asked how many had been visited so far and there was only the Davao airport that had been checked. For all we know, the visit was not meant to find out the problem of the airport,” Alvarez told the panel.
Alvarez, who was chief of the Transportation Department during the time of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, said he could not believe that he would be among the thousands of Filipinos to be complaining about the delays in the securing of license plates and OR-CR from the Land Transportation Office.
Three months after he bought a brand new car, Alvarez said he has yet to receive his car plate.
Tugade sought to use the Speaker’s complaints to pitch blanket emergency powers that he wanted Congress to grant him, but Alvarez would have none of it.
“It cannot be that we’d allow blanket emergency powers. We have to identify which areas will need emergency powers. It cannot be a blanket coverage,” he said.
Alvarez also grilled Transportation Undersecretary for Railway Noel Kintanar, who previously served as assistant vice president of Ayala Corp.; Undersecretary for Air Operations Bobby Lim, who was formerly country manager of the International Air Transport Association; and Undersecretary for Land Transport Anneli Lontoc.
Alvarez said Tugade and his officials did not need emergency powers to address the concerns that the President wanted resolved in the first 100 days such as the traffic, long queue and the release of permits and licenses within three days.
Alvarez warned Tugade that just like in the previous administrations, some officials had prioritized the interests of their former “principals.”
He cited as example former Energy secretary and Executive Secretary Jose Rene Almendras, who worked for the Ayalas and served under former President Benigno Aquino III and also under Aquino, former Public Works secretary Rogelio Singson, who worked for businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan.
“Let us not fool ourselves. In every administration, private corporations put their people in departments covering their business. Whose interests are you serving?” the Speaker said.
The Ayalas and Pangilinan have ongoing multibillion stakes in big-ticket infrastructure projects such as the Metro Rail Transit System and Line Railway Transit.
San Miguel Corp. also has stakes in MRT and Tugade, according to National Economic and Development Authority Director General Ernesto Pernia, wanted to allow the SMC-Ramon Ang owned Manila North Harbour Port Inc. to engage in international trade that port stakeholders were opposing since MNHPI has an existing exclusive contract with the Philippine Ports Authority to operate only in domestic trade.
“We want this administration to succeed, I and Secretary Tugade are partners in ensuring that we all work for the interests of the government. This is why we want to scrutinize your budget to see that it is clean and is not tainted with the interest of your former principals,” Alvarez added.
“Let’s not fool each other. Let’s look at your budget to see if it is clean of any interests of your former principals. Let’s be frank and blunt about this,” Alvarez said.
Tugade defended his handpicked team at the department, however.
“I need them to guide me. But if I ever see any conflict of interest, I will not wait for an investigation, I will fire them immediately because I am here to serve the nation and the President,” he said.
“All we ask is give us the chance to do our job,” Tugade added.
When Alvarez raised the issue of delays in the releasing of license plates, official receipts and certificates of registrations with Lontoc, Tugade said this was precisely one of the reasons the department is seeking emergency powers from Congress.
During the budget deliberations, Alvarez also took issue with the perceived underperformance of some of the Transportation undersecretaries.
In particular, he scored Lim for visiting only one airport—Davao airport—out of the country’s 80 airports in the more than two months he has been in office.
“Seventy days and Davao only? How will you address the problems of the airports if you have not visited them? You should know the status of every airport in this country. It’s better you visit the airports so you get a clear picture,” Alvarez said.
Tugade’s department will spend over P39 billion for its projects in 2017. These include P4.9 billion for road projects, P5.5 billion for aviation projects, P24 billion for railways projects and P3.9 billion for maritime projects.
Tugade’s department has a proposed budget of P55.4 billion for 2017, up 25 percent from 2016’s P44.2 billion.
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