Malacanang uneasy as GMA starts to flex muscle

MANILA –The House of Representatives, which had been subservient to Rodrigo Duterte ever since the former Davao City mayor became president, has now found its voice and is willing to lock horns with the administration under the leadership of Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

This week, the two sides engaged in a war of words over supposed “budgetary insertions” with each side accusing the other of masterminding the scheme.

Next year’s national budget was locked in controversy after last week’s expose by Senator PanfiloLacson that said the national budget had been inexplicably bloated by the House. The senior senator said the new budget was padded with pork barrel allocations, hogged by Speaker Arroyo and her closest allies.

According to Lacson, P75 billion had been inserted into the budget allotted to the Public Works department, which was then distributed unequally to projects of select congressmen, including the Speaker.

The House blamed Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno for the gaffe and even called for his resignation, pointing out that it was the executive department that had added numerous items to the national budget that were not originally submitted for approval.

Malacanang stood by Diokno and rejected the House call for his resignation.

The House and Malacanang were also at odds over the status of the Road Board, which oversees the billions of pesos collected from the Road Users’ Tax.

President Duterte said he would abolish the notoriously graft ridden board, but House leaders insisted that the body should be kept operational.

Speaker Arroyo and Majority Leader Ronaldo Andaya Jr. spoke with the president on Wednesday, Dec. 19, to lobby for the board’s retention. As of presstime, Mr.Duterte had not yet decided if he would recall his previous call to dismantle the body.

Suspicions have been raised as to the reason for the House to seek the retention of the Road Board since the road users’ tax collections reach P45 billion, disbursements of which are not easily audited.

Furthermore, the lower chamber had earlier passed a measure abolishing the body and no explanation was given for their turnaround.

The Senate had also passed the law which had been supported by the president.

Senate President Vicente Sotto said that as far as he was concerned, the law was as good as passed and could not be rescinded. The final version would be sent to Malacanang even without the signature of Speaker Arroyo.

Former president Arroyo grabbed the post of House Speaker from Duterte ally Pantaleon Alvarez during the State of the Nation Address (SONA) of the chief executive earlier this year.

The coup in the lower chamber of Congress caused a delay in Mr. Duterte’s SONA, visibly irritating the president.

Mrs. Arroyo, however, declared that she was still part of the administration and would fully support all its programs, notably the shift to a federal form of government and other changes to the constitution.