Duterte backs Senate on Road Board abolition

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 21) — President Rodrigo Duterte said he backs the Senate's abolition of the Road Board, which he called a "milking cow" of corrupt government officials, contradicting House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya who earlier claimed that the chief executive does not want the agency managing the road user's tax dismantled.

"I agree with the others and the senators that it is time to abolish it and return that function to the DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways)," Duterte said Friday during the change of command ceremony of the Philippine Air Force. "I hate to say it, but please, if it's good for the people, if it's good for the trust deposited on the people for government employees, then we'll just go ahead and abolish it."

Duterte added that he has been wary of the Road Board since his assumption in office.

Andaya had claimed that Duterte told him and Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in September that he wants to keep the Road Board, contrary to the assertions of Palace officials and close allies of the President.

In a Malacañang press briefing on Friday, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Duterte has not changed his mind on plans to get rid of the Road Board.

"These were the exact words he said: 'From day one I'm against it kasi ginagawa lang gatasan ng mga corrupt na politicians (because corrupt politicians are just milking it),'" Panelo said.

He added Andaya may have misunderstood the President or was not listening attentively.

Senator Koko Pimentel, the president of Duterte's party Partido Demokratiko Pilipino Lakas ng Bayan, also said Duterte told him of his desire to abolish the Road Board during the birthday party of Senator Manny Pacquiao in General Santos City last December 17.

"This incident should be clearly indicative of President Duterte's desire to abolish the Road Board," Pimentel said.

Executive to stand by Senate

Both the Senate and the House passed a bill abolishing the Road Board when Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez was House Speaker. However, three months after Arroyo assumed leadership, the lower chamber rescinded House Bill No. 7436's approval on third reading, leaving the measure in limbo.

Andaya said Congress could not transmit an enrolled copy of the bill because it could not have Arroyo's signature, but Malacañang said this is only "ministerial."

Panelo earlier said Malacañang already has a copy of the bill from the Senate, but he later clarified only the upper chamber's resolution has reached the President's office.

Panelo, who also serves as Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, admits there may be a court battle if the Senate pushes through with transmitting the bill even without Arroyo's signature.

"There may be a legal question on whether or not that, from the point of view of the law, it is indeed an enrolled bill ready for signing," Panelo said.

If push comes to shove, Duterte said the executive would stand by the Senate, even if it ends up in a constitutional crisis.

"If it comes to a constiutional controversy, the executive department will side with the Philippine Senate in its interprertation of the law that the process was completed and it's been sent to the Senate for apperoval and, on time, it was signed," he said.

The Palace said Senate President Tito Sotto is correct in saying that the House can no longer rescind the measure since it was already passed and adopted by the Senate in toto, skipping the part of the process wherein a bicameral committee irons out differences.

Asked if the President would sign the bill expected to be sent by Sotto, Panelo said, "most likely, he will."

"If the President really wants to end this, he will sign it and then they (lawmakers) will go to the court," he added.

The Road Board, tasked to manage the road users' tax or the motor vehicle user's charge (MVUC) for repairs and maintenance of roads, had been repeatedly slammed by the Commission on Audit over billions of pesos worth of unimplemented and unobligated projects, and millions of pesos of excessive costs and overpayment.

Under the proposed measure, the Road Board would be abolished and the MVUC would be placed into four trust funds - 40 percent in the Special National Road Support Fund and 40 percent in the Special Local Road Support Fund, both of which would be managed by the DPWH, 10 percent in the Special Pollution Control Fund managed by the DOTr, and 10 percent in the Special Pollution Control Fund under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Andaya said this does not abolish the Road Board, but only creates "Road Board Kings" who would have "dictatorial powers" over the MVUC collections.

CNN Philippines' Ina Andolong contributed to this report.