MANILA - Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said Friday his ongoing feud with members of the House of Representatives over alleged insertions in next year's budget was all because of his decision not to release the road users' tax.
Diokno said he received a directive from President Rodrigo Duterte not to release the funds, amounting to some P45 billion, pending the abolition of the Road Board.
"Yun ang pinag-iinteresan ng ilang tao d'yan kasi that’s really a cash cow of the previous administration," he told radio DZMM's Failon Ngayon.
(That's where their interests lie because that was really a cash cow of the previous administration.)
A measure to abolish the Road Board has been approved at both chambers of Congress, and the Senate adopted the House version after sensing a possible change in direction after the leadership shuffle, said Diokno.
Diokno said Minority Leader Danilo Suarez headed the Road Board when Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was still president.
"Maraming kalokohan 'yan. We made a decision—the President and I and our economic managers—na hindi namin re-release-an yan. I just came from the President kagabi. Sabi niya 'wag mong release-an because the status now of that bill is in question," he said.
(Lots of hullabaloo happened there. We made a decision—the President and I and our economic managers—not to release any of that. I just came from the President last night and he said not to release that because the status now of that bill is in question.)
The executive branch is awaiting the transmittal of the "enrolled copy" of the bill and the President will immediately sign this, said Diokno.
"Then we can release now whatever money or we can transfer it to the Treasury and let Congress appropriate the money because that’s their role, the power of the purse," he said.
But the House rescinded in September its approval of House Bill 7436 from the time of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.
The legislator grilled Diokno over the non-release during the question hour this week, reminding the budget secretary that the law mandates the immediate release of those funds.
Majority Leader Rolando Andaya, a former budget chief himself, estimated that the unreleased funds go up to as much as P60 billion and he suspected that Diokno will release these to favored allies in the run up to next year's elections.
This came on the heels of allegations that there was a P75-billion 'insertion' in the 2019 national budget as proposed by Diokno's Department of Budget and Management.
However, the secretary said it could not have been an insertion when initiated by the executive. Rather, it was an adjustment as part of the budget preparation.