By Roy Mabasa
Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno on Wednesday confirmed that House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya and Minority Leader Danilo Suarez were among the “many” lawmakers who inquired from him about the release of the Road User’s Tax (RUT) fund.
Diokno said there are other names of politicians who came to him to inquire on the status of the P45 billion RUT fund “but I told them I won’t release it until that issue on the Road Board abolition is settled.”
Suarez and Andaya were among the lawmakers who “grilled” Diokno during the “question hour” at the House of Representatives on the alleged “pork” insertions in the 2019 budget.
“Marami nang lumapit sa akin. I won’t name names ‘no. Marami nang lumapit sa akin na pulitiko na tinatanong iyong status nga ng road user’s fund na iyon, kailan mari-release and so forth. Sabi ko, hindi ko iri-release iyan until that issue on the road board is settled.
Both Malacanang and the Senate have batted for the abolition of the Road Board due to alleged anomalies involved in the handling of the funds.
Malacanang earlier said the P45 billion RUT fund should be reverted to the National Treasury and let Congress allocate the same money thru legislation.
Diokno recalled that the Road Board was cited by the Commission on Audit (COA) for misappropriating about Php90.7 billion.
Some of the funds, according to Diokno, were allegedly used at the peak of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s term in 2004 to pay for street sweepers and for the procurement of brooms and uniforms on a nationwide scale.
He reminded that the RUT funds are specifically for road repairs and improvement and not for cleaning streets or buying uniforms for street sweepers.
“That was the tenor of that… findings by COA that 90.7 billion pesos were misappropriated,” he said.
Suarez once headed the Road Board during the time of then President Arroyo.
Diokno noted that the late Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago also exposed the “misuse” of the RUT fund under then Interior and Local Governments Secretary Ronaldo Puno who also sat as chair of the Road Board.
Moreover, Diokno also raised the question on the Road Board’s composition whose members are not even elected officials.
Currently, the Board is composed of Diokno, Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, and three other presidential appointees.
“There’s something wrong with this. Sabi ko, ‘Why not give this power to Congress? Sila na lang ang mag-appropriate. Why give it to us?’ Kasi tiningnan namin iyong record nitong Motor Vehicles User Charges,” he said.
The RUT is a fund derived from fees being collected from vehicle registrations nationwide.