Opposition lawmakers cry foul over zero budget treatment | Money

Opposition lawmakers claimed on Wednesday the zero budgeting approach imposed on those critical of the Duterte administration was an assault on democracy. “The unilateral removal of projects already approved by congress on third reading is an assault on democracy which rests on critical checks and balances," Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat Jr. said in a statement. Baguilat was one of the lawmakers who supposedly did not receive budget allocations for projects under the 2018 General Appropriations Act (GAA). This act of exacting revenge on genuine opposition lawmakers shows the administration’s “desire for autocracy, for dangerous dictatorship,” the congressman said. “My constituents in Ifugao are taxpayers too. The allocations would have improved the national roads to the rice terraces and poor upland communities," Baguilat said. “We in the opposition are not in Congress to obstruct, but rather our role is to raise a howl when wrong is being committed and give praise when it is warranted,” he added. Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said on Wednesday political allies of the Duterte administration in Congress will get the priority in budget allocations for various projects that have been identified. “There will be a distinction between those who are with the administration than those who are not,” he told reporters at a forum in Manila on Wednesday. Diokno’s statement is “wrong” and unacceptable, Baguilat noted. “The budget should be looked at objectively to make sure that taxpayer money goes where it is needed the most, and not used as a reward for those who will blindly follow the administration’s wishes, whether right or wrong,” he said. Removing of the budget allocation for projects of opposition lawmakers shows an “unabashed disdain for democracy,” Akbayan party-list Representative Tom Villarin said. “It serves as fair warning to the rest of the House members that all must obey and support the move for a constituent assembly, no elections in 2019, and a shift to constitutional authoritarianism,” Villarin, who also received zero allocation, said in a separate statement. Villarin said imposing punishment on opposition lawmakers by making their constituents suffer is “pure hubris” and reveals the dictatorial nature of the leaders of the House of Representatives and the retaliatory mindset of the administration. “Such withdrawal of projects without any basis and done treacherously after the bicameral report on the GAA was already approved in plenary is unprecedented and highly questionable,” he said. “Any citizen deprived of such services can seek redress through our courts and the ballot,” he added. — Erwin Colcol/VDS, GMA News

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