Budget held hostage in House row: Lord: Debates delayed due to Alan’s theatrics, personal agenda

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    MARINDUQUE Rep. Lord Alan Velasco on Wednesday night hit back at Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and his allies, accusing them of holding hostage the proposed P4.5 trillion national budget for 2021 because of the speakership row.

    In a statement posted on social media , Velasco said it is “most unfortunate” that floor deliberations on the budget were suspended on Wednesday night, minutes after a majority of congressmen voted to reject Cayetano’s resignation offer, which he made in a privilege speech

    “Instead of focusing on the work at hand, further political maneuverings and theatrics took the budget deliberations hostage. We lost an entire day, and even tomorrow (Thursday) where you have declared that no session will be conducted, which are crucial in meeting our timeline,” Velasco said. “These attacks and distractions serve no purpose other than to perpetuate what is a purely personal agenda threatening to delay the passage of the budget. This is the truth.”

    Velasco, who is still eyeing to assume the post on October 14, called on his colleagues to continue work and pass the budget on or before October 14, saying it is a “commitment we’ve made before the President and this is our responsibility to our constituents, to deliver to them a fair and equitable budget.”

    “I assure my peers that we will be a gracious leader who would listen and be responsive to your concerns. But I make an earnest plea: Let us uphold the dignity of the House of Representatives by being men and women who believe in ‘Palabra de Honor’ (Word of Honor) in keeping our word and upholding the term-sharing agreement Speaker Cayetano and I swore to honor and respect,” he said.

    The House plenary, after rejecting Cayetano’s resignation, approved on Wednesday the motion of Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Michael Defensor seeking to suspend deliberations on the 2021 budget until Friday morning, supposedly not to “sabotage its passage” but to give lawmakers time to address the pending issues raised by lawmakers, including the questionable budgetary items of the health sector and the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said that while President Duterte respects the decision of the individual members of the House of Representatives in relation to the speakership row, the President would like to see the proposed 2021 national budget passed on time.

    Roque said the approval of the National Expenditure Program for next year is a priority measure of Malacañang as it contains funding for the government’s campaign to control the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

    Roque said the President does not favor a reenacted budget in 2021.

    In his resignation speech on Wednesday, Cayetano revealed that Duterte had asked Velasco several times to give in to Cayetano’s request that he be allowed to stay in office until December just to ensure the smooth approval of the 2021 budget because it is pivotal in the country’s war against the pandemic.

    The Speaker said the budget will hang in the balance if there will be a leadership change before it is passed because congressmen will have to face senators in the bicameral level later on but Velasco allegedly said that he can have it approved without changes, a plan which Cayetano said would turn Congress into a complete rubberstamp of the Executive.

    Velasco said Cayetano had promised to resign on October 14 when the President ordered the two of them to just honor the term-sharing agreement which they forged last year.

    “Ito ay usapang lalaki (This is a gentleman’s agreement). Moreover, the President entrusted you with the task of announcing the date of the turnover. October 14 was chosen as the date for the turnover because we committed to pass the budget before October 14 and do nothing else that would disrupt or derail the process. Thank you for confirming this in your September 30 Privilege Speech and for sharing with the body that this is what we discussed during our meeting with the President — that you will resign on October 14 and that you will announce this yourself as a gentleman,” he said.

    ‘JUST FIGHT’

    Defensor, in an interview with ANC, challenged Velasco and his allies to just move to declare the speaker’s position vacant and nominate him if they have the numbers.

    “First of all, I will not advise Speaker Alan to resign because we have already voted then we vote again. I would advise those who want a change of leadership to declare the seat vacant,” Defensor said. “It will be a question of vote and if in the end, they do not get the numbers then I think we should just continue our work and respect each other.”

    Defensor reminded Velasco’s camp that the speaker’s post is not an “entitlement” and also not an “appointed decision (but) “a collective decision.”

    “A simple motion to declare the office vacant would pave the way if indeed they have the votes to transfer the leadership of the House,” he said.

    Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza, a Velasco supporter, claimed that the House did not have a quorum even when the vote on Cayetano’s resignation offer was being undertaken.

    “So therefore, this is all rigged, questionable, and definitely not in order,” he said, saying many of those who did not vote were counted as among those who did while those who were opposing the move were not heard because they were muted on Zoom app which the House is using as a videoconferencing mode.

    He dismissed the Speaker’s resignation offer as a “drama” which he said was obviously staged because Cayetano should resign on October 14 if he was serious in honoring the agreement.

    PBA party-list Rep. Jericho Nograles said he did not participate in the voting because it was a waste of time since the House only provides for an actual resignation and not an offer to resign which members can vote on.

    Section XIII of the rules states that “a vacancy is created whenever any of the officers dies, resigns, or is permanently incapacitated, or when the House declares any office vacant.”

    “In case of death, resignation or permanent incapacity of the Speaker, an Acting Speaker chosen by a majority of the Deputy Speakers from among themselves, shall assume the duties of the Speaker until a new Speaker is elected,” it said.

    In his Wednesday night speech, Cayetano reminded President Duterte that Velasco and his family backed the presidential bid of Sen. Grace Poe in the 2016 national elections.

    Cayetano said Velasco told the President that Cayetano supporters will revolt against the Chief Executive if he is removed, an allegation which Cayetano found preposterous.

    “Ang sinasabi ni Cong. Velasco, mag rerevolt ang congressmen against sayo Mr. President.

    Tinignan ko siya, I’ll be honest with you, isip isip ko, one month before the election punong puno pa bahay mo ng Grace Poe eh, diba. Alam naman natin role ng family nila sa Grace Poe case eh. Tapos sasabihan mo ako na magrerevolt ang Congress dahil sa akin. ‘Yun ang nasa isip ko pero hindi ko na sinabi out of respect (Velasco was saying congressmen will revolt against you, Mr. President. I looked at him and I’ll be honest with you, I was thinking that just a month before the 2016 presidential elections, your house was still full of Grace Poe campaign paraphernalia. We know their family’s role in the Grace Poe disqualification case but I did not say it out of respect),” he said.

    Cayetano told the President that it was Velasco who will face such a revolt if he forces himself to be the leader of the House “and by the time that they will revolt against him, it’s too late dahil nagkanda leche leche na ang budget natin (our budget will have been jeopardized).”

    The Speaker also reminded the President that he was with him from the start, as early as September 29, 2015 when the two of them met in Davao City to convince him to run for President and make him his running mate.

    “Ang sabi ko, ‘Mr. President, kung tatakbo ka, I will support you. If you get me as your vice president, good. If not, I will still support you. If you get another vice president, I will still support you. As a politician, that was a mistake but as a Christian, naniwala ako e (I said, Mr. President, if you’ll run, I’ll support you. If you get another vice president, I will still support you. As a politician it was a mistake, but as a Christian, I believed in him),” he said.

    Duterte met with Cayetano, his wife Taguig Rep. Lani Cayetano, sister Senator Pia Cayetano. and Rep. Eddie Villanueva, on Wednesday night or hours after the offered resignation and voting that happened at the House.

    Roque said the meeting on Wednesday night had been scheduled two weeks ago and was primarily for a “pray over” on the President by Villanueva who is a religious leader. – With Jocelyn Montemayor