House ouster threat a dud: Pulong, Alan skip session

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    Cayetano and Duterte (Photos from pna.gov.ph and PCOO)

    DEPUTY speaker Paolo “Pulong” Duterte failed to make good on his threat to have the speaker’s position declared vacant yesterday, leaving the post of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano unchallenged, for now.

    “Ito, opinyon ko lang ito pero I have 99.9% feeling na talagang si Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano pa rin ang magiging Speaker namin dahil wala namang problema sa pamamalakad niya (This is just my opnion but I have a 99 percent feeling that Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano will remain our Speaker because there is really no problem with his leadership),” ACTS-CIS party-list Eric Yap, chair of the House committee on appropriations, told ANC.

    Less than 20 minutes after it opened, the House leadership abruptly ended the plenary session, leaving those who were expecting fireworks on the floor hanging.

    Right after the bills referral, Deputy Speaker Raneo Abu, the presiding officer, suspended the session until 3 p.m. today.

    No one rose to raise a motion to declare the positions of speaker and deputy speakers vacant even if the younger Duterte earlier said he would ask the members of the Mindanao bloc to declare the positions vacant over the complaint of Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves that the proposed infrastructure budget for 2021 is not equitably distributed among districts.

    Teves earlier questioned the P8 billion public works allocation given to Taguig and P11.8 billion to Camarines Sur during the budget briefing of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) on its proposed P667.3 billion budget for 2021.

    Deputy speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte of Camarines Sur has claimed that Teves was being used by Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco to sabotage the swift passage of the 2021 budget before Velasco takes the helm from Cayetano next month based on their term-sharing agreement.

    Sources said Velasco, who is in Davao to consolidate his supporters in preparation for his assumption to the House’s top post, is in an uphill battle because majority of congressmen remain loyal to Cayetano.

    Malacañang has said that President Duterte will not meddle in the House speakership issue, despite the fact that it was the President who brokered the term-sharing deal between Cayetano and Velasco.

    Yap, who is a close friend of the presidential son, said Cayetano has already spoken to the younger Duterte after the Davao City lawmaker issued the statement that he would seek to declare the positions of speaker and deputy speakers vacant.

    It was not clear yet if concessions were made to appease the presidential son.

    Both Cayetanbo and the younger Duterte did not attend yesterday’s session.

    “’Yung ibang mga parochial concerns ng mga congressman (So, the parochial concers of congressmen), we try to address that. So magkakaroon kami ng majority caucus para pag-usapan ano ba talaga ang problem (We will have a majority caucus to discuss what the problem is),” Yap said.

    Yap said the Davao City lawmaker never said that he would be the one to declare the positions vacant but members of the Mindanao bloc who are unhappy with their district’s allocations.

    “Never naman niyang sinabi na he will declare, ang sabi niya he will ask the Mindanao Bloc kung may reklamo, then sila ang mag-declare. Kasi siya wala naman siyang reklamo dahil hindi siya nakikialam sa budget (He never said he will declare. What he said was he’ll ask the Mindanao bloc and if they have complaints, then they will declare. He, himself, has no complaints because he doesn’t meddle with the budget),” he said.

    DELAYED APPROVAL

    Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the squabble at the House of Representatives might adversely affect the passage of the P4.506 trillion proposed national budget for next year.
    “If they do not settle their issues, yes the budget might be delayed. But I’d rather not meddle and speculate on what’s happening in their turf,” Sotto said.

    He said he believes the President will not interfere just to solve the House infighting.

    Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon echoed Sotto’s statement, saying the bickering among congressmen supposedly over infrastructure funds of legislative districts lodged with the DPWH could affect their timetable in passing the proposed national budget.

    “Certainly, a power struggle in the House of Representatives will affect our timelines and I hope not because we are still in the middle of a pandemic and we have about 10 percent unemployment,” Drilon said in an interview with ANC.

    He said once the budget is delayed, the country will have a re-enacted budget, which means that new programs will not be funded or will have to wait until the budget is finally passed.

    Drilon said it is a must that Congress approves the proposed budget on time since the 2021 national budget seeks to address the pandemic, unemployment and the imminent economic contraction that is projected to be 6 to 9 percent by the end of 2020.

    He said if the budget for 2021 is delayed, the country’s recovery from the pandemic will be derailed, too.

    “More than any other time in the past, it is critical that the budget be enacted on time. We cannot delay the budget for 2021 because of the condition we are in today,” he added.

    Drilon recalled how a power struggle and bickering over infrastructure funds in 2018 delayed the passage of the 2019 national budget for over four months, which economic managers then blamed for the country’s economic slowdown.

    Asked whether the bickering over infrastructure funds is connected to the 2022 elections, Drilon responded: “I would like to attribute good faith. But you cannot discount that this is part of the preparations for 2022. I have been in Congress long enough to know that if there is anything you should exercise with extra vigilance, it is what is called the election year budget.”

    Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who is an anti-pork advocate, said the bickering at the HOR was all due to “pork.”

    “This early, we are already seeing the ugly effects of ‘pork.’ More than the possible delay in the passage of the 2021 national budget, any ugly squabble in plenary over the distribution of earmarks a.k.a. ‘pork’ is exactly that – ugly. When statesmanship goes out the window, our people’s respect towards the legislature as an institution as well as its individual members somehow dissipates. Any way we look at it, it is sad and lamentable, to say the least,” Lacson said.

    He said the total amount of P135 billion covering 5,913 re-appropriated items and P396 billion in lump sum appropriations lodged in the central office of the DPWH may need further clarification.

    “It is basic that once an infra project has started its implementation, it is already obligated.

    Hence, there can be no partial cash allocation, unless that project is discontinued, cancelled, or terminated. Then, the unused portion of the appropriation becomes savings that may be realigned. Or, if the project is covered by Multi Year Contractual Authority (MYCA), formerly known as MYOA or Multi Year Obligational Authority which is clearly spelled out and provided in the 2020 GAA, the same item cannot reappear in the succeeding budget year,” he said.

    “We were not born yesterday as far as budgeting is concerned,” Lacson added.
    Malacañang stressed that the immediate passage of the proposed 2021 budget is urgent and non-negotiable.

    “Let’s just say that because the 2021 budget is our biggest stimulus package, it’s not negotiable with the President, we need to pass the budget on time,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said. – With Raymond Africa and Jocelyn Montemayor