MANILA (UPDATED)- House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez ordered the removal of projects in the constituencies of "critical" and "wayward" lawmakers from the 2018 national budget, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman alleged Wednesday.
"The discarded projects were in the GAB (General Appropriations Bill) which was approved on third reading by the House of Representatives but were surreptitiously deleted during the bicameral conference on the national budget reportedly upon instructions of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez," Lagman said in a statement.
Among the allegedly scrapped projects were roads and bridges leading to tourist destinations; diversion roads to decongest traffic; dikes and seawalls; and public buildings.
Majority of these are included in the 2018 National Infrastructure Program of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) under the "Build, Build, Build" scheme, he said.
"What is worse is that highways and bridges for completion in 2018 would be left hanging and unfinished," Lagman lamented.
"Moreover, majority of the deleted infrastructure projects have already been bid out pursuant to government's advance bidding schedule pending approval of the General Appropriations Act (GAA)."
"That's life," Alvarez said in response to Lagman's statement.
In a phone interview with ABS-CBN, Alvarez claimed that he had to make sure that his allies' allocations and needs were addressed. He also alleged that this was a practice done by previous administrations.
Alvarez claimed that the only difference now is that he was more transparent about it while previous administrations kept the allocations of critics in the budget but did not release the funds.
He also claimed that not all 24 lawmakers named in a list that circulated among House reporters lost their projects for their districts.
Vendetta, Lagman claimed, fueled the removal of the projects.
"Vengeance plus caprice equal zero allocations for authentic opposition Representatives and other targeted legislators in the House of Representatives," he said.
"Zero allocations are projected to punish and silence opposition legislators even as it is their constituencies who are deprived of the benefits of infrastructure development. Why punish citizens and communities for the earnest and valiant efforts of their Representatives to maintain responsible dissent as the bedrock of democracy?"
The newly passed 2018 General Appropriations Act (GAA) left some 20 lawmakers with zero projects in their constituencies,
Makabayan bloc lawmaker and ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio said, citing reports that reached his office.
A reliable ABS-CBN News source who asked not to be quoted confirmed that about 24 district and party-list representatives have no infrastructure project under the GAA. Among them were:
Emmy de Jesus
Sara Jane Elago
Maria Valentina Plaza
The Magnificent 7 and the Makabayan Bloc have been critical of the administration.
Many of the LP congressmen meanwhile belong to the majority but are identified with the camp of opposition leader Vice President Leni Robredo.
Floirendo, for his part, has figured in a long running spat with Alvarez over an allegedly anomalous lease agreement between Floirendo's Tadeco and the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).
Marcos, meanwhile, is the mother of Ilocos Norte Governor Imelda Marcos, who figured in a spat with local rival Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas.
Shortly before the 2018 budget was approved by the House on third and final reading, the leadership asked all lawmakers to propose amendments to the budget. The amendments would be processed by a small committee of lawmakers who will decide which of the itemized proposals land in the final version of the budget.
Since the Supreme Court struck out the Priority Development Assistance Fund system in 2013, lawmakers no longer get lump sums they can disburse upon discretion and are instead asked to itemize their pet projects under the GAA.
House Appropriations Committee Chair Karlo Nograles, who is part of the small committee, explained that their treatment of proposed projects relies on different agencies and departments that conduct vetting.
"When I say vetted, it's something that agency confirms na kinakailangan. That was what was carried both in the Senate, the House and bicam[eral] version," he said.
Asked to confirm if some lawmakers were given zero budget for their constituencies, Nograles said: "On the part of the HoR, those questions have to be directed to the Speaker."