THE word war between allies of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and rival Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco escalated on Friday over alleged inequitable distribution of funds under the proposed P4.5 trillion national budget for 2021.
Political observers said the ongoing budget conflict may affect the term-sharing agreement in the House leadership brokered by President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte.
Under the term-sharing agreement Cayetano will serve as Speaker for 15 months or up to October this year, after which Velasco, who chairs the House committee on energy, takes over and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez will be serving as House Majority Leader in full three years.
Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte, a staunch ally of Cayetano, has accused Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. of allegedly peddling a tale of disproportionate allocations of funds under the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in certain congressional districts.
Villafuerte, who represents Camarines Sur’s second district, said this is part of a supposed “sinister ploy” by a group identified with Velasco to allegedly “wreck” the House leadership’s target to wrap up deliberations on the 2021 budget plan by end-September.
He said Teves has betrayed the agenda of the Velasco camp in candidly admitting as “hearsay” the alleged information reaching him that Camarines Sur, which has five legislative districts, and Taguig City, which has two districts, one of which is represented by Cayetano, have respective allocations of P11.8 billion and P8 billion in the proposed 2021 budget of the DPWH.
According to Villafuerte, “it is clear as day that Congressman Teves has launched this chicanery on the basis of mere hearsay as part of the sinister ploy hatched by the Velasco camp, in cahoots with former Negros Occidental Rep. Alfredo Abelardo Benitez, to wreck Cayetano’s commitment to fast-track the approval of the 2021 GAA by hopefully finishing the committee and plenary deliberations on the budget in record time by end-September.”
BENITEZ AND TEVES RESPOND
Benitez told Villafuerte that “if you have nothing to hide, explain to the Filipino people why the national government has to shoulder the construction of your Provincial Capitol that costs more then P440M?”
“Sa panahon ng COVID-19, where resources are scarce and people are struggling to survive, it is only right that we demand answers to legitimate questions. If the good Congressman is morally certain that his budget will pass the public’s scrutiny, then prove us all wrong. Be transparent with your own district’s budget. Account for every peso and centavo,” Benitez stressed.
“My challenge to LRay Villafuerte. Put your money where your mouth is. You accuse Cong. Teves of making accusations based on hearsay but what you are doing is worse. Totally baseless and a figment of your overactive and defensive imagination,” Benitez added.
Teves vehemently denied that he was in cahoots with Velasco and Benitez in coming out in the open to denounce the unfair distribution of public funds during last Thursday’s budget briefing of the DPWH that was later deferred following failure of its officials to physically appear in the House of Representatives.
“Wala silang (Velasco and Benitez) kinalaman dito,” said Teves, a member of the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) where Velasco belongs.
“May nangyari pa sa akin noong nakaraang taon na bigla na lang nawala ang budget ng distrito ko. Kaya ako naglakas loob na magsalita ngayon. Serohin man ang budget ko, bahala na. Pero hindi na puwedeng mananahimik na ko,” Teves recalled.
“Wala akong kinakalaban dito. Kaibigan ko si Speaker. Classmate ko sa amin, schoolmate kami o. Si LRay, kasama ko rin ‘yan. Pero ang naririnig ko, ganito. Bakit gano’n? Sana lang maliwanagan kami. It’s nothing personal,” Teves stressed.
Villafuerte described Teves as the protege of Benitez, adding that the former congressman who has delusions of being a kingmaker to Velasco and titular head of the Visayas bloc of legislators even if he was no longer an incumbent representative from Negros.
He said the Negros Oriental solon should be “more circumspect next time and not allow himself to become the hatchet man of the Velasco-Benitez tandem in an evil scheme to wreak havoc on the House of Representative by scuttling its leadership’s lofty goal of passing the Duterte administration’s 2021 budget in record time–in full support of the President amid this season of the global pandemic.”
In Thursday’s hearing of the House committee on appropriations on the DPWH outlay in the proposed 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA), Teves bellyached that while his district had P2 billion in public works funds tucked in the Department’s budget plan for next year, Camarines Sur and Taguig City had higher allocations of P11.8 billion and P8 billion, respectively.