Floor debates on 2021 nat’l budget resume

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    Speaker Allan Peter Cayetano and Rep. Lord Allan Velasco.

    ALL’S well that ends well?

    Newly-installed Speaker Lord Allan Velasco and his predecessor, Taguig Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano, yesterday vowed to work for the quick approval of the proposed P4.5 trillion national budget for 2021 as they patched up their political differences in front of President Duterte.

    “I’m extending my healing hand. Speaker Cayetano and I spoke in front of the President earlier today,” Velasco told the plenary during the special session that the President called to resume congressional deliberations on the budget measure.

    “We have settled our differences I’m also extending that healing hand for all those whom we had differences with,” Velasco added.

    Velasco rallied his colleagues to approve House Bill No. 7727 or the Malacañang’s proposed 2021 national budget, the status of which was remanded to the period of debates, after its approval on second reading was recalled. The termination of the period of amendments was likewise reconsidered, effectively allowing lawmakers to resume plenary discussions on the proposed budget of executive departments, and giving the House a chance to pass the measure on second and on third reading later on.

    The special session is scheduled until Friday but lawmakers may approve the proposed 2021 National Expenditure Program (NEP) at any time since the bill was already certified as urgent by the President.

    Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, chair of the House committee on ways and means, said Velasco’s first act, which was to resume budget deliberations, “is the proper path to take.”

    “With this move, he starts off on the right foot, and restores regular order in the House,” Salceda said, noting that the proposed budgets of 18 agencies have yet to be discussed.

    By allowing the discussion of these agencies’ budgets and allowing members to scrutinize these items, Salceda said the new Speaker had assured the public that his leadership will thoroughly perform its most important constitutional duty.

    “The move will restore the confidence of the public in the processes of the chamber. This also allows the minority to perform their function as fiscalizer in this most important of all of the House’s mandates,” he said.

    The House last October 6 approved Cayetano’s motion to approve the budget on second reading, leading to the abrupt suspension of the session ahead of the October 16 scheduled congressional break.

    Yesterday, Cayetano thanked his fellow House members for giving him the opportunity to serve as Speaker since July last year.

    He said much work still has to be done especially in approving the 2021 national budget which contains the government’s programs for the country to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are still faced with the daunting tasks of not just helping the country recover from this pandemic but of also rebuilding the trust of the Filipino people in this, the House of their Representatives,” he said.

    Earlier yesterday, Velasco said the premature suspension of the session was obviously mean to prevent the transfer of power to him.

    Velasco said Cayetano’s actions drew condemnation from fellow lawmakers “who felt they were deprived of their constitutional duty to scrutinize and pass the budget.”

    “Even senators, economic managers and the business community were worried that the suspension of the session would delay the approval of next year’s budget and lead to reenactment of the 2020 budget,” he said.

    The Speaker added: “Our countrymen need no further proof of this than the whimsical, illogical, irregular and immoral attempt to suspend Lower House deliberations until November 16, 2021, for no apparent reason other than to perpetuate the hold of the ruling clique.”

    “As the head of a nation comprised of 109 million people, our President is voicing out the widespread sentiment that the interest of our people especially at this time of the COVID-19 pandemic and the concomitant crises it has spawned — is being sacrificed before the altar of personal greed and political ambition,” Velasco pointed out.

    OPTIMISTIC

    Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the Senate is expecting their House counterparts to finish the budgetary process by Friday.

    “All the HOR has to do is approve the budget on third reading, then print, and submit to us regardless of who the Speaker is,” Sotto said in a text message to reporters.

    Sen. Christopher Go said the meeting among Duterte, Velasco and Cayetano in Malacañang on Tuesday afternoon, went well.

    “All is well. President Duterte talked like a father to his ‘sons’. He advised them to unite.

    One majority and pass the budget bill on time for the sake of the Filipino people,” Go said.Senators had earlier warned of a delayed or reenacted national budget next year if the House does not pass the budget measure before Congress suspends sessions on October. 16.

    Sen. Panfilo Lacson had said the government running on a delayed or reenacted budget next year would not be healthy since funding will not be made on programs in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, including the purchase of vaccines, if they become suddenly available.

    Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Malacañang is optimistic that the proposed 2021 budget will be passed on time as the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) reiterated that the country cannot afford a re-enacted budget especially with the current coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

    Roque welcomed the latest House development while DBM Secretary Wendel Avisado said his department is happy with the conclusion of the speakership row.

    Avisado expressed hope that the House would be able to finish its deliberations on the budget and pass it on third reading by October 16.

    “We are happy that the leadership issue had been resolved because as we discussed in the Cabinet last Monday night, we cannot afford a re-enacted budget at this time, especially with the current pandemic,” he said.

    Included in the proposed budget for 2021 are the appropriations for government programs aimed at addressing the COVID-19.

    Roque said Malacañang believes that the lawmaker’s had heeded the call of President Duterte to set aside politics and focus on the passage of next year’s budget.

    “The President is very optimistic that the budget will be passed. Politics has been set aside and they can now concentrate on passing the budget in the House,” Roque said. – With Raymond Africa and Jocelyn Montemayor