Wednesday, November 11, 2009

'Apocalyptic Corruption'

The Philippine Star - Editorial
Updated November 11, 2009 12:00 AM

From 2001 to 2009, the government collected a total of P60.5 billion, paid by motorists as road users’ tax in the registration of vehicles. Under the law that created the tax, the money, administered by the Road Board, is supposed to be used exclusively for road maintenance and improvement of road drainage, the installation of traffic lights and road safety devices, and for air pollution control.

As the colossal flooding during storm “Ondoy” and typhoon “Pepeng” showed, the improvement of road drainage has been a joke. And driving around Metro Manila will quickly illustrate the lackadaisical enforcement of laws regulating vehicular emissions.

How was the P60.5 billion spent? The Commission on Audit reported that P332.64 million of the road tax, earmarked for the OYSTER or Out-of-School Youth Serving Towards Economic Recovery program, was transferred to the Philippine National Police. Why? Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago wants to know, and so does the public.

Santiago, who spearheaded a Senate probe into the use of the road tax, noted that the PNP is under the Department of the Interior and Local Government, whose head Ronaldo Puno happens to be the brother of former Road Board executive director Rodolfo Puno. Santiago also noted that in 2007, an election year, there was an “unusually large amount of allotments obligated” involving the road tax. She said the case involved “apocalyptic corruption.”

The apparent fund juggling could have been facilitated by the fact that the tax is not remitted by the collecting agency, the Land Transportation Office, to the National Treasury but deposited in special accounts under the supervision of the Road Board, whose ex officio chair is the secretary of public works and highways. On Monday night the Senate unanimously approved the filing of plunder and graft cases against Rodolfo Puno, Danilo Valero of the board and Hermogenes Ebdane Jr., who recently resigned from the public works department.

Beyond pursuing the prosecution of anyone who might have misused the multibillion-peso fund, lawmakers should also consider changing the system of handling the tax, in a way that would promote transparency and prevent its misuse. Such oversight mechanisms are needed as the tax continues to be collected and the temptation to misuse the funds increases as the 2010 elections approach.

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