Velasco to senators: Budget okayed by Friday

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    NOW that the intramurals at the House of Representatives is over, lawmakers went back to the drawing table yesterday and resumed plenary discussions on the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021, which senators expect will be approved on third and final reading on Friday, 16 October.

    Senate President Vicente Sotto III said newly-installed House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco has personally assured him that the budget bill will be ready for printing on Friday.

    In a text message to reporters, Sotto said he was able to talk to Velasco over the phone Tuesday night. “Yes, he (Velasco) got in touch last (Tuesday) night. No protocol necessary…

    He called. I returned the call. I said congratulations. He said they are working on the budget and expects to pass it on third reading by Friday,” Sotto said.

    He said they agreed to meet right after the budget measure is approved by the House to discuss the other priority measures of the Malacañang.

    “We agreed to meet soon to further strengthen the relationship of both houses,” he said, expressing hope that senators would build a good relationship with the new House leader as their agreeable relations with Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano.

    Harry Roque, spokesman of President Duterte, said lawmakers at the House of Representatives can now focus on discussing the proposed 2021 national budget now that the speakership row has been resolved.

    Likewise, Roque said the President accepted the apology extended by Cayetano during their meeting last Tuesday with Velasco.

    “Congressman Cayetano apologized to the President. He apparently misunderstood the mandate of the President. He thought that the term sharing agreement will be effective after passage of the budget,” he said.

    Roque said Malacañang is expecting the House to devote its time on the passage of the budget bill, which he reiterated was important because it contain the funding for the government’s anti-COVID-19 measures.

    “The President of course was very appreciative of the cooperation of both parties and he appreciated the fact that Congress is now focusing on the budget, because that has been his call from the very beginning – to pass the 2021 budget,” he said.

    Majority of House members on Monday declared the Speaker position vacant and elected Velasco as the new leader of the lower chamber during a gathering held at the Celebrity Sports Club in Quezon City. The election of Velasco was formally ratified on Tuesday after 186 congressmen voted to put him on power.

    Roque said Velasco and Cayetano have committed to work together towards the passage of the 2021 budget and other priority legislative measures of the administration.

    Meanwhile, Sotto said Velasco has assured him that the 12 members of the National People’s Coalition who lost their committee chairmanships will have their positions back.

    Sotto is the chair of the NPC.

    Sotto said one NPC congressman will still be part of the Commission on Appointments, another will be retained as a member of the House of Representatives’ Electoral Tribunal (HRET), seven members will retain their sits as vice chairs of the House committee on appropriations, while Antique Rep. Loren Legarda and Sorsogon Rep. Evelina Escudero will remain as House deputy speakers. – With Jocelyn Montemayor