INSISTING that the suspension of sessions until next month is illegal, the camp of Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco yesterday said it will try to force the leadership of the House of Representatives to resume the plenary session on October 14.
“The power in Congress rests in the majority members. If the majority decides to hold a session on the 14th, with or without (Speaker Alan Peter) Cayetano, we can do that. And I’m going to participate if anybody calls, if Velasco calls, for a session on October 14,” Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza told reporters, insisting that the session was suspended illegally by the House since the Senate is still holding session based on the legislative calendar.
Allies of Cayetano shrugged off the plan of Velasco’s supporters to force the resumption of the session, saying it cannot be done because the session has already been suspended until November 16.
“Naka-adjourn na ang session, sarado ang plenary,” (Session is adjourned and the plenary is closed),” deputy speaker Neptali Gonzales II told a virtual press conference. “Maraming mga kailangan para sila ay makapag-session. (It will require a lot of things for them to be able to hold session). It will be an illegal session.”
Camiguin Rep. Xavier Jesus Romualdo on Tuesday moved to suspend House sessions until November 16 after the plenary approved House Bill No. 7727, or the proposed P4.5 trillion national budget for 2021 on the motion of Cayetano, who had asked the body to suspend floor debates on the money measure to fasttrack its approval on second reading.
The House leadership’s move to suspend the session was based on Section 55 of the rules that allows the plenary to terminate the debates in favor of tackling individual amendments after a bill is approved on second reading.
November 16 is 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 scheduled suspension date based on the legislative calendar.
The camp of Velasco had claimed that the move was meant to deflect Cayetano’s supposed schedule to step down as Speaker and turn over the leadership to Velasco based on a term-sharing agreement brokered by President Duterte last year.
“Why avoid the inevitable? What is inevitable? Whether we meet on October 14 or November 16, 17, 18, that question will always crop up from the floor. ‘Mr. Speaker, you are already overstaying, we move to declare your position vacant.’ He will not be able to avoid that,” Atienza said, adding that the Speaker is in denial of the truth that his time has ended and “doesn’t care if Congress disintegrates out of public condemnation” just to save his post.
AAMBIS-OWA party-list Rep. Sharon Garin said their group is now planning its next move to force the leadership to reopen the session on October 14 and move for the transition of power based on Velasco’s term-sharing agreement with Cayetano.
The lawmaker, who was removed as chair the committee on economic affairs and replaced by Aklan Rep. Teodorico Haresco, claimed that Velasco already has the support of majority and is still winning the support of more colleagues because of what Cayetano and his allies did.
“There are talks going around already and calls were being made (but) it just happened yesterday so I think the congressmen are still thinking about it and trying to figure out what happened,” Garin told reporters. “We will do it but when it will be done, it still has to be threshed out whether it is on October 14, or after October 14 or November 16 but the intention is still there.”
Velasco slammed Cayetano and his allies for allegedly “railroading” the budget and “maneuvering” the House rules in his “desire to hold on and hang on to power in clear defiance of President Duterte’s desire for the passage of fair and equitable budget that serves nothing but the interests of the Filipino people.”
“He knows very well that he no longer enjoys the trust and confidence of House members.
This caper is the last nail to his coffin. Speaker Cayetano, you’re time is up,” Velasco said.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, a leader of the opposition bloc, joined the calls for the Speaker to step down in favor of Velasco, saying the 40-day suspension of the House session without the approval of the Senate is a violation of the Constitution.
“This has not happened in the history of the Lower House,” he said in a television interview, stressing that the budget bill’s passage was railroaded without even finishing deliberations of the budgets of 14 departments.
Gonzales, who was the majority leader in the 16th Congress under the Aquino administration, ridiculed the Velasco camp’s plan, saying they can hold their own meeting and elect their officers but “it will just become a social club.”
He said the Speaker has been given a “new mandate” after the majority voted to reject his resignation offer, which set aside Cayetano’s term-sharing agreement with Velasco.
He urged Velasco’s camp to follow the rules in trying to unseat the Speaker, which he stressed, can only be done in the plenary.” He said the speakership fight has always been a numbers game but Velasco, until now, has yet to prove his claim that he has the support of the majority.
“We are ready na harapin sila (We’re ready to face them) in a parliamentary warfare that will dislodge Speaker Alan,” said Gonzales, saying what the other camp is doing is resort to “media hype.”
Gonzales at the same time slammed Atienza’s claim that lawmakers who were participating in the session on Zoom app were all muted and were barred from speaking, saying the rules governing the virtual session were not designed against the Velasco group but to make Congress ready to do the legislative tasks despite the health quarantine protocols amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What’s the alternative? Tell me. Ano? (What?) Would we rather stop the proceedings?
Hintayin natin matapos ang pandemic? (Just wait for the pandemic to end?),” he said. “Can you just imagine na i-unmute mo ‘yan? Can you just imagine itong noise na ‘to will be broadcasted simultaneously? (Can you imagine unmuting all of them? Can you imagine the noise that will be broadcasted simultaneously?),” he said.
Deputy speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte denied that the approval of the budget on second reading the subsequent suspension of the session for more than a month is meant to bar Velasco from forcing an election.
“His (Velasco’s) ambition and desire is to be Speaker, it’s a numbers game. If they had the numbers yesterday, the other day, they would have pushed for it,” he said, pointing out that not one of his allies who were on the floor stood up and supported him.
“So wala po talagang numero sila (So they don’t really have the numbers),” Villafuerte said, noting that 184 lawmakers had voted to reject the Speaker’s offer to resign last week.
Villafuerte also does not see any need for a special session since the proposed 2021 budget has already been approved on second reading and a small committee has been formed to review committee and individual amendments.
“Special session is only one day. We have more than one month to sit down and work on it.
I don’t think one day will do something to change the situation as against the 30 days while on break we will work it out and approve on third reading on November 16,” he said.
Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Michael Defensor said the House will continue to work for the passage of the budget on final reading while majority leader Martin Romualdez welcomed Malacañang’s statement thanking the House for passing on second reading.
“We would like to assure the President, our colleagues in the Senate, and the entire country that the decision of the House leadership and majority of the members to insulate the budget discussions from politics is in line with our desire to craft a responsive and relevant measure, which would address the needs of the country in recovering from the effects of the pandemic,” Romualdez said.