A SLY move or a masterstroke?
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano put another one over Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco when the House of Representatives yesterday suspended the plenary session until next month, depriving Velasco of the opening to force Cayetano to turn over the post to him before Congress adjourns its session next week.
Cayetano, in a privilege speech, initially moved to approve the proposed P4.5 trillion national budget for 2021 on second reading, saying this would prove wrong Velasco’s claim that the Speaker and his allies are holding the budget’s passage hostage so he could cling to his post and disregard their term-sharing agreement last year.
“If I am holding the budget hostage, then I would now move to defer plenary deliberations and take it up by November,” he said. “So I will prove to Congressman Velasco and his cohorts (that they’re wrong). I move to terminate (the) period of debates on (the) budget.”
The Speaker’s motion was carried, prompting deputy speaker Raneo Abu to move for the passage of House Bill No. 7727, or the proposed national budget for 2021, on second reading through voice-voting.
In a radio interview, Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza slammed the plenary’s move to suspend the session ahead of the October 16 adjournment date, saying the passage of the budget was “railroaded” and what happened was “the worst kind…the first of its kind” and that it “destroyed Congress.”
“This proves beyond doubt that Speaker Cayetano is desperately hanging on. He has just publicly confirmed that he is losing ground that’s why he did it. He didn’t care about constitutional integrity, throwing everything into the air and making Congress go on a long vacation,” he said in a separate statement.
The plenary formed a 13-man “small committee” that would be in charge of reviewing both committee and individual amendments to the budget which will be entertained until November 5, while the session is on recess.
The panel is composed of majority leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, deputy speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte, Rep. Eric Yap, chair of the committee on appropriations, and Reps. Jose Antonio R. Sy-Alvarado, Junie E. Cua, Henry S. Oaminal, Joey Salceda, Stella Luz Quimbo, who represents 0the minority; Michael Defensor who represents the party-list bloc; Manuel Jose M. Dalipe, Teodorico T. Haresco Jr., Elpidio F. Barzaga Jr. and Elenita Milagros Ermita-Buhain.
The plenary then approved the motion of Camiguin Rep. Xavier Jesus Romualdo to suspend the session until November 16, the day that the session is set to resume after a month-long Halloween break that will begin on October 14, which is just two days away from the adjournment date based on the legislative calendar.
Velasco’s camp has been insisting that Cayetano abide by their term-sharing agreement and leave his post on October 14 even after the Speaker’s offer to resign was rejected by the plenary last week after the two of them met with President Duterte at Malacañang.
The House leadership’s move to suspend the session was based on Section 55 of the rules which allows the plenary to terminate the debates in favor of committee and individual amendments after a bill is approved on second reading.
Cayetano had earlier slammed Velasco for vowing to pass the National Expenditure Program (NEP) without amendments once he becomes Speaker, saying the situation will be chaotic because lawmakers, especially senators, will not allow it to happen.
“You’re not a real Lord. It’s just your name. Just because you wish it, doesn’t mean it will happen,” he said.
DELAYING THE BUDGET
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the Senate may not have enough time to finish with its own floor deliberations on the proposed national budget next year because of the latest development in the House of Representatives.
“The HOR has just disregarded the request priority of the President to pass the budget.
There is no way we can finish the budget if it is not submitted to us before the mandated break after Oct 14. Do not blame us!” Sotto said.
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, chairman of the Senate finance committee, said: “We were hoping that the House would approve the budget bill on third reading before the congressional break next week as was promised, so the Senate could begin its plenary debates upon resumption of sessions on Nov 16. As it is the schedule is very tight. I hope the original schedule could still be followed but at the end of the day we cannot impose on our House colleagues but only plead and appeal to them.”
Sen. Panfilo Lacson was more optimistic, saying the Senate may still have enough time to finish floor deliberations if the proposed national budget is transmitted to the Senate in November.
“Depending on which date in November they (HOR) can approve on third reading the House version of the 2021 GAB (General Appropriations Bill), not to mention the nature of their amendments, I think we have enough time to finish our floor deliberations and avoid a re-enacted budget. Take note that they have to print the documents prior to transmittal to the Senate,” Lacson said.
Senate president pro tempore Ralph Recto said: “It is the prerogative of the House. The House is the originating chamber so the Senate can only start plenary debates after official receipt of the approved House bill. The Senate traditionally holds morning to midnight debates for two weeks on the general appropriations act. That will still be observed this year. There will be no reenacted budget but a revamped budget is a certainty.”
President Duterte said that it is the right of Velasco to run for speaker if he wishes to.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, in a briefing, said this was the main message of the President when he met with Velasco on Monday night, which he said was requested by Velasco.
Roque said he could not provide more details as he was not present in the meeting but merely relaying the statement made by the President that was given to him.
“I cannot give you more detail other than humingi po ng permiso si Congressman Lord Allan para tumakbo bilang Speaker at ang sagot po ng Presidente, ‘Karapatan mo iyan sang-ayon sa kasunduan ninyo kay Speaker Alan Cayetano’ (I cannot give you more details other than Congressman Lord Allan asked for permission to run for Speaker and the President answered, ‘It is your right based on your agreement with Speaker Alan Cayetano),” he said.
Asked if it is true that Duterte gave his blessings to Velasco, Roque refused to annotate or interpret what the President had said.
Velasco claimed Duterte advised him to insist on the term-sharing agreement with Cayetano, telling him that it’s his turn to be the leader of the House.
“The President was categorical when he said, ‘Lord, it is your right time now. I have already spoken. You have to insist your right based on the term sharing agreement,’” Velasco said in a statement.
Velasco said he was thankful for the time shared with him by the President at the Palace on Monday night which he described as “more casual and like a father-son conversation.”
He agreed that the President lacks the power to choose the speaker because House Members will be the one to vote. “This is in consonance with the timed honored principle that the executive department cannot meddle into the internal affairs of a co-equal body,” he said.
Velasco still expects the Speaker to resign on October 14 and abide by the term-sharing agreement, reminding Cayetano that there is a supermajority Coalition in Congress because lawmakers followed the wishes of the President during the speakership race 15 months ago.
“The supermajority does not belong to Speaker Cayetano but allied with the President of which PDP Laban is the largest bloc in the coalition and for anyone who would renege on the term sharing agreement from any member of the coalition is actually defying the wishes of the President,” he said.
At yesterday’s House plenary session, three Velasco allies were stripped of their chairmanship posts led by AAMBIS-OWA party-list Rep. Sharon Garin who was replaced by Aklan Rep. Teodorico Haresco as chair of the committee on economic affairs.
The two other Velasco allies who were fired from their chairmanship posts are Reps. Helen Tan of Quezon, who was removed as chair of the health panel and replaced by another doctor, Guimaras Rep. Lucille Nava.
Rep. Eric Martinez of Valenzuela City who was also removed as chair of the committee on youth and sports who was replaced by Manila Rep. Yul Servo Nieto.
The three were removed after the plenary removed 1-Pacman party-list Rep. Michael Romero as deputy speaker in favor of Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro.
The plenary also created a special committee on creative industry and performing arts which is chaired by Pangasinan Rep. Christopher De Venecia, the only son of former speaker Jose De Venecia Jr.
In a privilege speech, the Speaker said he holds no grudges against Velasco supporters and they will be allowed to retain their posts for as long as they work with the leadership and do not sow intrigues against it like some of their allies.
“Okay you can keep your chairmanships but when you are planning, sowing intrigues and trying to sabotage the House, (that’s a different story),” he said. “For as long as you work with us (on the) budget you can keep (your) post, but if you will use your positions to destabilize the House (I won’t allow it).” – With Raymond Africa and Jocelyn Montemayor