Muted on Zoom? Lord’s allies question confidence vote on Alan

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    THE camp of Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco wants the House of Representatives to declare null and void last week’s vote rejecting Speaker Cayetano’s resignation offer but the House leadership dismissed the claim as nothing but propaganda.

    Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves said the result of the September 30 vote was questionable because, like some of his colleagues, he, too, was allegedly muted on Zoom when he was about to raise a point of order to question the quorum.

    He said majority leader Martin Romualdez later told him that 299 members were “deemed present,” including those who were participating remotely via the Zoom app, but the congressman was not convinced.

    “Hindi ko alam sino ang gumawa ng ruling na ‘yun. Pero tingin ko hindi naman dapat, halos imposible naman yun (I don’t know who made that ruling but I think it shouldn’t be like that) and to whose favor will it be? Only to those inside the House who were allowed to speak. Where’s democracy now?” he told ANC.

    Teves said President Duterte should be made aware of what really happened because the proceedings on the vote rejecting the Speaker’s offer to resign were out of order and was “railroaded.”

    “Gusto ko nga makarating ito kay Presidente para makita niya na mali ‘yung ginagawa na ng House (I want this to reach the President so he would see that what they’re doing is wrong),” said Teves.

    The lawmaker echoed Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza’s claim that Velasco has the numbers to topple Cayetano, noting that the Party-list Coalition has 54 members, the PDP-Laban has 65, and the National People’s Coalition (NPC) has 35.

    The Speaker’s allies dismissed the claim, with deputy speaker Dan Fernandez of Laguna accusing Velasco’s clique of engaging in “double-talk and disinformation.”

    Fernandez laughed off Atienza’s and Oriental Mindoro Rep. Salvador Leachon’s claim that Velasco has some 154 supporters from the party-list bloc, PDP-Laban, and the NPC.

    He said the number does not add up because Velasco’s allies did not consider those from party-lists and PDP-Laban blocs who have said they support Cayetano’s continued leadership, like Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Michael Defensor and SAGIP party-list Rep. Rodante Marcoleta who are being counted as voting for Velasco despite sticking it out with Cayetano.

    Fernandez noted that Surigao del Sur 2nd District Rep. Johnny Pimentel and Pampanga 3rd District Rep. Aurelio Gonzales, who were previously allied with Velasco, are now supporting Cayetano, having both signed the manifesto of support for the Speaker and voted reject his resignation.

    Deputy speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte said while Congress is busy making sure that the budget is passed on time, Velasco and his allies “are preoccupied with trying to get the members to join their hopeless cause.”

    “In their desperation to mislead the President, our colleagues, and the public, Cong. Atienza and Cong. Leachon have even resorted to outright lying to pad their numbers,” he said. “What’s even worse is that they still count (Senior Citizens party-list) Rep. (Francisco) Datol who passed away last month among those who they claim will vote for Velasco.”

    Villafuerte said Cayetano has 190 “real, actual, living members who have reaffirmed their support for the Speaker, and at least 30 more who have indicated that they will support Speaker Cayetano should it come to a vote following the President’s statement that he will not intervene in the choice of individual members.”

    The House leader reminded Velasco of what the President said, that “the budget is more important to him than who sits as Speaker.” “When he rejected the President’s request, he already showed that nothing will get in the way of his ambition. Not the President, not his colleagues in this House, and certainly not the people,” he said.

    PHYSICAL ATTENDANCE

    Atienza, for his part, said the leadership should allow more House members to physically attend the plenary session on the proposed P4.506-trillion national budget for next year despite the rising number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases at the House “rather than limit the participation to deliberations to his (Cayetano’s) peers.”

    Seven months into the pandemic, he said the House leadership has yet to come up with protocols that would allow the gradual reopening of Congress to more legislators and transition from legislating from a distance.

    Only 25, including senior citizens, out of the 304 House members are allowed to attend the plenary session in Batasan Hills, while the rest could only attend via video conference platform Zoom.

    “COVID-19 is being used as a convenient excuse to prevent a great number of lawmakers from effectively carrying out their responsibilities as representatives of the people while allowing only a few to personally participate and monopolize the deliberations,” Atienza pointed out. “It is about time the House leadership reopen Congress to members who may wish to attend the session in person, subject to strict health protocols.”

    The Speaker said the House leadership had to impose a hybrid system for plenary participation since many lawmakers were worried that they might contract COVID by attending the session.

    “So we adopted a system where everyone can participate online and now they’re making it appear that we’re just prohibiting them from attending,” he said in a Facebook live post.

    P11 B FOR TAGUIG

    Teves continued to question the infrastructure budget allocated for Taguig City, which is represented by the Speaker and his wife Rep. Lani Cayetano, noting that for 2021, Taguig-Pateros will be getting a total of P11.1 billion under the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

    Out of the total P25 billion in public works budget for the DPWH-NCR for next year, Teves noted that a whopping P7.92 billion, or 38 percent, is set to be allocated for Taguig-Pateros on top of an additional P3.2 billion under the DPWH’s District Engineering Office budget, for a total of P11 billion.

    “Now think about this: in terms of population, Taguig-Pateros is just 6 percent of Metro Manila. Is that amount justifiable? The numbers just don’t make sense,” said the lawmaker who earlier questioned why only P2 billion was allocated to his district under the 2021 budget.

    Teves said the allocation for Taguig-Pateros will be higher than the DPWH funds allotted for each of the 15 regions across the country, noting that it has a higher budget allocation than the P7.26 billion budget allotment for the entire Region IV-A (Calabarzon), which is bigger than every other region apart from NCR.

    “It becomes even more glaring when compared to the P1.39 billion earmarked for the entire Region XIII (Caraga). How is that fair and equitable?” Teves lamented.

    The Speaker shot back at Teves, accusing him of using his position as a lawmaker to engage in an “illegal” business which Cayetano said he would soon divulge.

    Cayetano belied the claim that only those close to him were given huge infrastructure budgets, noting that the district of Bukidnon Rep. Manuel Zubiri, who was not among those who voted to reject his resignation offer, was in the Top Five list of districts that received the highest budgets.