AKBAYAN Representative Risa Hontiveros revealed Thursday that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo spent a whopping P459 million for infrastructure projects in the second district of Pampanga where she happens to be eyeing a congressional seat in the coming May elections.

“The amount she spent for her district for last year alone is nine times more than the infra allocation given per congressman annually,” said Hontiveros.

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These projects, according to Hontiveros, were started just a year before the May 2010 elections. Some projects are still ongoing and are being implemented.

Some of these projects are the ongoing construction of the slope protection along Porac River, concreting and rehabilitation of Babaukan Road in Porac and the opening of Lubao Bypass Road of San Fernando-Olongapo Road.

“This is another example of her preparations to use the resources to give herself undue advantage... Patas ba ang laban? (Is the fight fair?),” furthered Hontiveros when she attended the hearing on the disqualification case she filed against Arroyo Thursday afternoon.

For his part, election lawyer Romulo Macalintal said there is nothing wrong with a President implementing projects in the place she grew up in.

But Hontiveros argued that Arroyo's use of funds is wrong since she will be running for a lower position in the coming elections.

“She has made herself into an unprecedented example of one who is still in power and will use her power and resources to capture a lower position... I think we may not find an example like her anywhere else in the world.”

She added that this is only one of the reasons why Arroyo should be disqualified from the congressional race in Pampanga.

Hontiveros filed a disqualification case against the President days after the deadline of filing certificate of candidacies.

The Akbayan representative is hopeful that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) will favor her in the case.

She accused that Arroyo's bid creates an unequal opportunity. Arroyo is running against only one candidate -- architect Adonis Simpaom who is under the Liberal Party.

“That’s the most compelling reason why she should be disqualified from running. As the highest official of the land, virtually no one, not a sitting legislator and especially not an ordinary civilian like Mr. Adonis Simpao, can compete with the resources that she has at her disposal,” she said.

Arroyo and Hontivero's camps are set to submit their memoranda on January 12 before the Comelec gives out a resolution on the matter.

In defense

Malacanang was quick to defend President Arroyo in light of the alleged excessive infrastructure project spending she made for the benefit of her hometown Pampanga.

Presidential deputy spokesperson Gary Olivar at a press briefing Thursday said the allegations of Representative Hontiveros was a “creative and selective presentation of the facts” against the President.

Olivar said Pampanga is not only the area the President was spending almost half a billion peso to improve infrastructure systems.

Instead, Public Works and Highways acting chief Vic Domingo, who was present at the briefing, said that provinces in Visayas and Mindanao such as Davao, Leyte, and Cagayan de Oro also obtained the same level of budget.

Hontiveros said the President has lavished Pampanga, particularly its second district where she is running as congresswoman, with P459 million-infrastructure budget for road, canals, and municipal building construction.

Domingo did not deny the hefty amount but clarified that the P200 million of the P450 million was allotted to the flood control project which benefitted adjacent provinces of the Pampanga such as Bataan, Zambales, Bulacan, and Tarlac.

“You should remember that Pampanga is the source of all these floodwaters. During the heavy rainfall typhoon season, the water coming from the Mt. Pinatubo and the mountain ranges, they go down all the way to the Pampanga province the wide basin of the Pampanga. And they overflow all the way to Bataan, Zambales, Tarlac,” he said.

He added that the P200 million was not even enough to complete the flood development program in Pampanga.

According to Domingo, the President has allotted another P3.8 billion for flood development project, which will prevent flooding in low lying areas in Pampanga and neighboring provinces in Central Luzon.

“This is not only for Pampanga alone but for the provinces of Bulacan, Zambales, Bataan, Tarlac and all the waters emanate from Pampanga so I hope will not again say that 3.8 billion is a massive infusion of projects at the expense of other provinces,” he stressed.

Domingo said the remaining P250 of the budget was the annual infrastructure project of the region which was spent for the road construction – P150 million for Lubao bypass road and P100 million for access road in Basa Airbase.

President Arroyo, in her speech during the signing of Social Security System Condonation Law in Calauan Laguna, defended herself from Hontiveros’s claims, saying she did not only allot large budget in Pampanga but to other areas as well.

She noted that one project she had given priority was construction relocation sites in selected provinces for those who were affected by recent typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng.

More roads, bridges

Presidential spokesperson Olivar also stressed that Arroyo was the President who has built more roads and bridges on her watch than three successors combined namely former Presidents Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos, and Joseph Estrada.

In a report furnished by Freddie Tolentino, Central Luzon director, it showed that Arroyo has constructed 47,800 kilometers (kms) of major roads and 289,000 linear meters of bridges from 2001 to 2009 with a total expenditures of P226 billion.

During the three terms of Estrada, Ramos, and Aquino from 1986 to 2000, Tolentino’s data showed that 34,300 kms of major roads and 274,700 linear meters of bridges were constructed.

Olivar said the recent allegation against the President is not an expose but a “canard.”

“I said, and, really, you know, this kind of statements, it is for the public interest which is to elevate the level of discourse, inform the public, educate the public about real issues and focus the candidacies on platform and character — things like that — not on selective readings of the facts like this,” he added.

To clear all the issue, Domingo said he is willing to show Hontiveros the breakdown of Arroyo’s project in Pampanga. “Anytime...I can meet her there over a cup of coffee or I'll invite her for dinner or for lunch.” (Kathrina Alvarez/Jill Beltran/Sunnex)