WITHOUT following its schedule and amid a speakership showdown, the House of Representatives on Tuesday approved on second reading the proposed 2021 P4.5- trillion General Appropriations Act and immediately suspended the session until November 16.
This, after Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano moved to terminate the plenary considerations on the national budget without finishing the scheduled budget deliberations of the remaining 31 government agencies.
“I will prove to Congress [Lord Allan] Velasco and his cohorts that I am not hostaging the budget. Applying Section 55 of our rules, I move to terminate the period of debate of House Bill or the P4.5-trillion 2021 General Appropriations Bill,” Cayetano said in his plenary speech. The motion was seconded by Bulacan Rep. Jonathan Sy-Alvarado.
Under the original budget deliberations schedule, the House is set to approve the budget on second reading on Friday (October 9) and on third and final reading on Wednesday next week (October 14).
After the budget’s approval, Cayetano also moved to immediately suspend the session until November 16—more than a week earlier than the October 16 congressional break.
However, Cayetano said a small committee has been created to continue the deliberations and accept lawmakers’ amendments to the 2021 budget even during the break.
The calendar of session showed that Congress is scheduled to go on break on October 16, or two days after the anticipated turnover of the speakership from Cayetano to Velasco.
Following their meeting with President Duterte, Velasco claimed that he will take over the post starting October 14.
However, Cayetano reiterated that the President repeatedly asked Velasco to compromise and let him stay as Speaker until December so as not to derail the passage of the national budget, saying, “the 2021 national budget is our single most effective tool to ensure that our country will not suffer more than it has already because of this pandemic.”
Without the session, the camp of Velasco will not be able to declare the Speaker’s post vacant. Earlier, supporters of Velasco said they will declare Cayetano’s post vacant on October 14 and implement the term-sharing agreement between the two lawmakers.
“I sincerely apologize to the President that he has to hear that. And just like Congressman Velasco, I’m sorry to our people that we had to do this at this time. If he had only followed the agreement to effect the change in November, if he had only known how to count correctly, we wold not have a problem,”
“To our people, while I’m Speaker of the House, I promise you that every able-bodied congressman and congresswoman will work harder and work smarter to give you a relevant and responsive budget that you can be proud of,” Cayetano told his peers, adding every lawmaker will be given a chance to work with their legislative allocation during the break.
Velasco, however, has sought anew Duterte’s approval to run for the speakership against Cayetano on October 14.
In a statement following his meeting with the President Monday night, Velasco claimed that he secured the Chief Executive’s approval to push for the term-sharing agreement.
“Lord, it is your right time now. I have already spoken. You have to insist [on] your right based on the term-sharing agreement,” said Velasco, quoting the President.
“On the issue of the Palace having the lack of power to choose the next House Speaker, Yes, we agree. Because House members will be the one to vote, after all. This is in consonance with the time-honored principle that the executive department cannot meddle in the internal affairs of a coequal body,” he added.
With this, Velasco said they expect Cayetano to resign on October 14 and to abide by the term-sharing agreement as forged by the President.
“In the same way that there is now the Super Majority Coalition in Congress because we abided with the wishes of the President during the speakership race 15 months ago,” he added.
“The Super Majority does not belong to Speaker Cayetano but allied with the President, of which PDP Laban is the largest bloc in the coalition; and anyone who would renege on the term-sharing agreement from any member of the coalition is actually defying the wishes of the President,” he added.
“Whatever accomplishments of the House of Representatives are the collective efforts of all the members of the Super Majority Coalition because we cooperated with the House leadership and we are likewise grateful to Speaker Cayetano for steering Congress during those times as the anointed one who first assumed as a Speaker based on the term sharing agreement,” he added.
Following the meeting with President Duterte, Mindoro Rep. Doy Leachon said the Velasco camp is now confident that it shall get the necessary votes, once the current Speaker steps aside.
“After all, while Congress is a separate and distinct body, my colleagues fully respect the President, the agreement that he brokered and know that his mandate will be carried out more seamlessly if his preferred choice is elected as House Speaker,” he added.
Meanwhile, three more known Velasco supporters have been removed from their positions in the chamber.
AAMBIS-OWA Rep. Sharon Garin has been removed as chief of the House Committee on Economic Affairs and replaced by Aklan Rep. Teodorico Haresco.
Rep. Angelina Tan was removed as chairman of the House Committee on Health and replaced by Guimaras Rep. Lucilla Nava.
Also, Manila Rep. John Marvin Nieto was elected as new chairman of the House Committee on Youth and Sports, replacing Valenzuela Rep. Eric Martinez.
On Friday, the plenary also removed 1-Pacman Rep. Mikee Romero as a deputy speaker. Romero, a supporter of Velasco, is the current president of the Party-list Coalition, which has 54 members.
Image credits: AP