Senator mulls abolition of road users' tax

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 20) — Amid disagreements of the Palace and the Senate with the House over the proposed abolition of the Road Board, Senator Ping Lacson said he is mulling to abolish the road users' tax if it is only being misused.

"Based on what's happening now and assuming na tama 'yung computation na [that the computation is correct that] we're overtaxed, well, let's do away with the road user's tax," Lacson told CNN Philippines' The Source on Thursday.

The road users' tax, also known as the motor vehicles user's charge (MVUC), is administered by the allegedly corruption-laden Road Board, which the Palace and the Senate seek to abolish. However, this move has been blocked by the House, which backtracked on its support to do away with the board.

The Road Board, which is headed by the secretaries of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Transportation (DOTr), Department of Budget and Management, Department of Finance, and two representatives from the private sector, is in charge of around P45 billion worth of tax money collected by the government from road users.

The agency is in charge of the maintenance and repairs of roads, but its performance has been repeatedly hit by the Commission on Audit (COA) for being inefficient.

In 2017 alone, the COA slammed the Road Board over ₱1.458 billion worth of uninitiated projects and ₱3.739 billion worth of unimplemented or unobligated projects due to slow procurement processes and failure to coordinate with local government agencies and public utility corporations.

The state audit firm also found ₱7.962 million in excessive costs in seven projects due to overstatement of the quantity and costs of work items and overpayment to contractors totalling to P3.540 million.

"Kung ang pinaguusapan natin hundreds of billions of pesos na nawawala sa corruption, either we're overtaxed or underserved. Kung tama 'yung taxation sa atin, underserved naman tayo. Eh kasi hindi natin nakikita 'yung service ng government commensurate doon sa taxes na binabayad natin," Lacson said.

[Translation: If we are talking about hundreds of billions of pesos which we are losing due to corruption, either we're overtaxed or underserved. If we're correctly taxed, then we're underserved. Because we're not seeing the government's service being commensurate with the taxes we are paying.]

'Road Board kings'

Both the Senate and the House passed a bill abolishing the Road Board and splitting the MVUC to 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.

However, three months after Pampanga 2nd District Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo became Speaker, the House rescinded the House Bill No. 7436's approval on third reading, leaving the measure in limbo.

In a statement on Thursday, Andaya said the bill does not abolish the Road Board, but instead makes the DPWH, DOTr and DENR secretaries "three powerful Road Board kings" who would have "dictatorial powers" over the MVUC collections.

"Kasing klaro pa ng sikat ng araw na sa ilalim ng HB 7436, ang pondo ay off-budget, hindi transparent at idedeposito sa special trust funds under the control of the Road Board Kings," Andaya said.

[Translation: It is clearer than the rays of the sun that under HB 7436, the funds are off-budget, not transparent and would be deposited into special trust funds under the control of the Road Board Kings.]

The House Majority Leader also assailed a provision in the bill which includes the improvement of solid waste management programs and facilities into the projects which may be funded by the MVUC.

House records show that Andaya did not cast a vote when HB 7436 was passed on third reading in May as he was absent. He also did not raise these concerns against the bill during plenary deliberations.

Despite the House's firm stance against the Road Board's abolition, the Malacañang is standing pat on its desire to get rid of the board, saying that President Rodrigo Duterte would sign the measure into law as soon as it reaches him. Budget Secretary Ben Diokno said they are still waiting for Congress to transmit the enrolled copy of the bill.

However, Andaya said no enrolled copy can be transmitted as Arroyo could not sign it as the House rescinded its passage on third reading in September.

In a previous interview with CNN Philippines' The Source, Diokno said requests for the release of MVUC collections totalling to around ₱11 billion are on his table which he has not approved, as Duterte himself wants the Road Board abolished.

But Andaya is also claiming that Duterte wants the Road Board to stay and that the President wants the MVUC collections released.

He said Diokno should talk to the President, as he supposedly did, and should "stop giving alternative facts."

The budget chief, who is facing corruption allegations and calls for his resignation, said congressmen are after his head because of his refusal to release the MVUC collections, which they would allegedly use for their campaign in the coming polls, and his push for the abolition of the Road Board.

In a Palace briefing yesterday, Diokno, who is an ex-officio member of the Road Board, claimed that Andaya and House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez had asked him about releasing MVUC collections. Andaya has denied this.

Former House Majority Leader Rudy Fariñas also denied that his district received funding from the Road Board.

"My district has not received any Road Board Fund under the present Administration, even when I was the Majority Leader. As I said, it was Speaker [Pantaleon] Alvarez and I who initiated its abolition," Fariñas said.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Xianne Arcangel contributed to this report.