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House gun duel over funds?

Aldrin Cardona

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From almost coming to blows to the same pair of lawmakers agreeing to a gun duel, incidents of congressmen letting off their steam through Viber exchanges have exposed how low the House of Representatives becomes when its members fight over money.

It’s no paltry reason that more than P10 billion with Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) for projects in the congressional districts of Taguig and Camarines Sur are being questioned by several lawmakers. They would like to know why some are getting more while the rest have far less.

They’re for this year. But there’s more where these monies are coming from.

The exchanges are now being viewed as a preview of what now appears as a botched term-sharing deal between House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco.

Lion’s share
Cayetano’s district in Taguig as well as his wife Lani Cayetano’s (yes, they split Taguig City’s two districts using separate addresses and voting precincts) have also allegedly received P8-billion from the Department of Public Works and Highways’ (DPWH) budget for next year.

Another P11.8 billion in infrastructure funds will go to Camarines Sur.

The province is divided into two legislative districts.

District 2 is represented by Cayetano ally Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte.

District 1 has Cayetano as its “caretaker congressman” following the death of Marissa Lourdes M. Andaya on 5 July this year due to cancer.

The amounts were first disclosed by Negros Oriental 3rd District Representative Arnolfo “Arnie” Teves Jr. during House hearing on the DPWH 2021 budget on Thursday.

Teves is a member of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), President Rodrigo Duterte’s party when he sought the presidency in 2016, and whose members belong to the bloc supporting Velasco.

The Marinduque lawmaker is set to take his turn — for 21 months until 2022 — in the term-sharing deal concocted no less by Cayetano, who had agreed to serve 15 months as House Speaker which is supposed to end in October.

Party favors
Cayetano, sources say, is reneging on this agreement.

This has sent many lawmakers up in arms. This issue about the inequitable distribution of funds makes the congressmen seethe even more.

Cayetano is also acknowledged as a key member of the Nacionalista Party (NP), to which Villafuerte belongs. The NP is led by the power couple Manny and Senator Cynthia Villar, parents of DPWH Secretary Mark Villar whose agency is responsible for the funds’ release to Cayetano and Villafuerte.

The P10 billion was the DPWH fund surrendered to the Office of the President supposedly for the COVID-19 fight. The OP had returned the money to the agency, but it has become a discretionary fund that was reportedly easier to manipulate.

The agency has control over this lump sum after that.

Teves’ claim percolated the House’s Viber group with many lawmakers now questioning the House leadership.

But several Tribune sources claimed it had started way back when one of their peers — a Cayetano ally — challenged a Velasco supporter (a senior member of the House) to a gun duel to settle their issues.

It was the second time for them to figure in near physical altercation after the same pair nearly came to blows last year during talks on appropriations.

Most congressional districts are receiving just P2-billion worth of projects, with some even less.

Total allocation for the Visayas bloc, meanwhile, is only eight percent of the 2021 budget.

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