Budget hearing takes nasty turn, fuels speakership row

Questions over the allocation of the public works budget next year—specifically over Taguig and Camarines Sur getting the lion’s share—have turned into a speakership issue as allies of Speaker Alan Cayetano accused critics of trying to derail the passage of the General Appropriations Act.

Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. in an earlier budget hearing confronted officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) about rumors that Taguig and Camarines Sur were getting the largest slices of the public works budget for next year.

But ACT-CIS Party-list Rep. Eric Go Yap, chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, said Taguig City, whose two congressional districts are represented by Cayetano and his wife Lanie, was given P11 billion in public works budget for next year because it houses Fort Bonifacio, the Army’s headquarters, where several big projects will be implemented.

Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte, for his part, turned his guns on Teves, calling the latter 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 blabber 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’s accusation to an alleged plot concerning the speakership.

“It is clear as day that Congressman Teves launched this chicanery on the basis of mere hearsay as part of the sinister ploy hatched by the (Marinduque Rep. Lord Alan) Velasco camp, in cahoots with former Negros Occidental representative 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 congressman “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.”

Villafuerte insinuated that the Velasco camp wants its principal to be the speaker to hand over the approved 2021 national budget to Malacanang to ingratiate Velasco with President Duterte.

Under a gentleman’s agreement brokered by Duterte, Cayetano is scheduled the speakership post to Velasco next month.

Villafuerte also said he 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 asked.

“The public works budget for Taguig is mostly for later release. That’s why these are not considered new projects,” Yap said in a mix of English and Filipino. “These are projects that instead of getting implemented this year, were moved on for later release to 2021. If you will take a closer look at Taguig, [the budget] is not so big because the camps and military bases are included there.”

Benitez, whose three terms ran out with the 17th Congress, challenged Villafuerte to be transparent.

“My challenge to LRay Villafuerte is to put your money where your mouth is. You accuse Congressman 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,” Benitez 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, meanwhile, challenged Benitez and Teves to explain their possible links to alleged illegal e-gambling in the country instead of resorting to squid tactics just to camouflage their participation in the “sinister ploy” hatched by the camp of Velasco to wreck efforts by the House leadership to pass the 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA) by end-September.”

“Rather than act like sanctimonious moralists in waxing eloquent about public accountability and good governance, former congressman Benitez and his flunky, Representative Teves, should explain to the public their suspected ties to Sabong International, an Internet-based cockfighting or e-Sabong site on social media flagged by PAGCOR (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.) itself and which supposedly caters to both local and offshore-based players,” Villafuerte said.

Citing a PAGCOR report, Villafuerte said that in the absence of a law authorizing the placing of online bets on cockfights staged in the Philippines, this was a form of illegal gambling.

Topics: Alan Cayetano , General Appropriations Act , Department of Public Works and Highways
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