Where does the House go from here?

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - October 14, 2020 - 12:00am

The drama unfolding in the media about the Speaker of the House position didn’t just start in the past few weeks. It began almost as far back as when the term-sharing deal was brokered by the President in 2019. The deal said that Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano would serve as House Speaker from July 2019 until October 2020, while Rep. Lord Allan Velasco would take the helm from October 2020 until 2022. While this may have seemed like a good idea at the time, especially since it was a deal among allies, it’s fallen apart over the past several weeks and left the government’s spending budget in peril at the worst time possible.

Over the last week, the President made it quite clear that his goal right now is getting the budget passed. This is vital if the government wants disperse funds to keep several key programs running – especially those for COVID-19 response. With the leadership debate raging in the House, the budget is threatened and, along with it, programs and services the public desperately needs especially during these uncertain times.

As of yesterday, it looks like the Speaker position feud has finally come to an end with Speaker Cayetano tendering his “irrevocable resignation” from the position in a Facebook live video. The former Speaker also voiced his hope that Congress could unite and work to finalize the budget, apologized to the President for any misunderstandings and problems this struggle has caused, urged his colleagues in the House to continue legal proceedings, and thanked his supporters.

However, this does not mean that Cayetano has come to terms with what he deems an unlawful and sham election of Velasco at the Celebrity Sports Club. He reiterated that Congress’ business should be conducted at the House and hoped that they could now focus on what was really important uniting the house again and moving forward with the national budget. For his part, Speaker Velasco has expressed his desire to work amicably with Cayetano as he hopes they can put the issue behind them.

It has been a long and surprising struggle indeed. Even the Senate had already appealed to their colleagues in the House to resolve their differences as quickly as possible or, at the very least, not allow their internal problems to hold the proposed P4.5 trillion national budget hostage. The budget needs to be passed to ensure ample funding for government programs and projects that people rely on, especially in light of the pandemic.

Pending the quick movement on Congress’ part to get the budget through, the Senate has already committed to holding a speedy special session to quickly ensure the passage of  the budget on their end, making up for the delays caused by the House leadership deadlock.

The intricacies involved in the struggle for the position of House Speaker are many and varied, and we can all only guess the reasons this has gone on as long as it did. Budget time is actually quite a common time for power struggles as lawmakers scramble to secure enough funding for their special programs and projects. With the country’s current situation getting even more uncertain and the election looming in 2022, this budget season is even more crucial than usual and it’s not surprising that tensions are high.

At the end of the day though, I’m grateful that the feud is finally resolved and Congress can go back to what they should focus on – passing the 2021 General Appropriations Act for the President’s review and signature. Squabbles aside, at least they have recognized that this should be their priority to ensure that the government enacts a budget by January 2021 and that funding for COVID-19 response programs is not impacted.

As for where the House goes after that is done is anyone’s guess at this point. After all, tensions have already boiled over and there’s no putting that genie back in the bottle. Hopefully, our lawmakers can set their sights on what matters and find a way to work through these issues as amicably as possible. After all, they to have to continue working together and that won’t be easy with bridges burned. The House can’t remain divided if real progress is to be made. In the end, it should be about providing for the people and working for their constituents.

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Political struggle isn’t exclusive to the Philippines, and the United States is getting its fair share. The race between Biden and Trump is coming to a head with the end just around the corner. People from all around the world are watching with bated breath to see what will happen to the United States in the coming month. Will the status quo win out or will something drastically change?

We can’t pretend it’s not going to impact us all, which is why we are keeping tabs on what happens. Right now, the US seems to be on a precipice. It won’t be long before we find out the will of the people (so to speak). I’m keeping my eyes glued to the news to see how both candidates and their running mates navigate the remaining time before reaching the finish line.



For comments or questions, please email the author at: tonyk219@yahoo.com

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