At the same time, Cayetano corrected any perception that the 15-21 term-sharing agreement he had with Rep. Lord Allan Velasco would have him replaced by the Marinduque congressman in October.
STAR/ File
Leadership change in October? House row continues
Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) - March 5, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Amid renewed allegations of corruption in district allocations, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano asserted yesterday that House deliberations for the 2021 national budget will be done under his leadership.

At the same time, Cayetano corrected any perception that the 15-21 term-sharing agreement he had with Rep. Lord Allan Velasco would have him replaced by the Marinduque congressman in October.

“Hold it. You’ve been mentioning October; that’s what the other camp says precisely because they want a hold on the budget – they’ve been promising it. Our turnover is November, unless he doesn’t know how to count,” he told reporters in Filipino.

“So, I started my term in the last week of July (2019), right? Well, count it beginning with August (2019), and so on until end of October (2020). So, it could be end of October or the start of November,” Cayetano said.

He underscored that Velasco’s term would only cover the 18th Congress’ last budget deliberations, which is for 2022 or the last six months of President Duterte’s term of office until June of that year.

Technically, this is because the second half of the 2022 budget (from July to December) will be for the next administration’s spending purposes.

Thus, Cayetano will be leading the 300-member House in passing the 2021 budget – which many consider the so-called “election budget.”

Budget control

According to the Speaker, he has been telling Velasco’s camp – which is also under the administration majority coalition – that the two of them can take turns in the House leadership, but that the issue on deliberations of the national budget should not be on the table.

The national budget is prepared by the national government, through the budget department, on a yearly basis, and which the bicameral Congress – the Senate and the House – deliberates on, based on the constitutionally guaranteed mandate of the power of the purse.

“The budget should not be used as a spoil system or to return a hidden pork barrel system which the other camp has been promising to other House members,” Cayetano said, repeating his accusations that Velasco’s camp has been offering perks to its allied legislators.

House squabbling

True or not, the alleged coup plot has sparked infighting within the House.

Oriental Mindoro Rep. Doy Leachon – an ally of Velasco who was booted out of his chairmanship in the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) – accused Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte of illegal insertions amounting to P6 billion in allocations in the 2020 budget.

Villafuerte denied it, however, citing the rigorous process of scrutiny in both houses of Congress, the bicameral conference committee and the Department of Budget and Management before the 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA) was signed into law by the President.

“For anyone to believe that there is a supposed congressional insertion for a CamSur project in the 2020 GAA, he or she must suspend disbelief and accept what is impossible – that I had managed to pull a fast one on all legislators, both senators and representatives,” he said.

Villafuerte also accused Leachon of impropriety in heading the HRET when there is a pending electoral protest against him.

“It turns out that he (Leachon) had conned the Speaker because he had asked him (Cayetano) to be a member of HRET,” Villafuerte said, adding that reports of corruption hogged the HRET when Leachon was its head.

Then, there’s veteran Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab who was also removed as chairman of the powerful House committee on appropriations and replaced by neophyte Rep. Eric Go Yap of ACT-CIS party-list.

Yap, who used to head the House committee on games and amusement, is a close friend of Duterte’s congressman-son Paolo, who now sits as deputy speaker.

But Duterte’s eldest daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte – a vocal critic of Cayetano – threw her full support behind Ungab.

“The convenors of Hugpong ng Pagbabago strongly condemn the removal of Davao City Congressman Ungab from his post as chair of the House committee on appropriations,” she said in a statement.

“For HNP, the ouster of Ungab was grossly unacceptable as it is disadvantageous to the Duterte administration’s reform agenda for the Filipino people and the country,” a portion of the statement read.

Yesterday, Yap assured the nation that all government funds will go to government services and infrastructure where they are most needed.

“I’m ensuring that I would be neutral and listen to all needs in order to properly execute the ‘power of the purse’ vested in Congress,” Yap said in Filipino when interviewed in Baguio City.

He promised to make sure that priority projects, like social delivery programs needing funds, will be efficiently considered by his committee.

Being the legislative caretaker of Benguet, Yap said he also views his new role as an opportunity. “The appropriations committee is perfect so that we can deliver the needs of the people of the highlands via priority projects for their benefit,” he said.

Bloc division

Meanwhile, Abang Lingkod Rep. Stephen Paduano disputed the claim of his colleague, Cebu 5th District Rep. Vincent Franco Frasco, that the 48-strong Visayan bloc is fully committed to supporting Cayetano’s leadership.

Frasco, who chairs the Visayas development committee, had claimed that Visayan lawmakers “stand solidly behind Speaker Alan” with regard to the protocols on hearing the franchise renewal application of ABS-CBN.

But Paduano said Frasco cannot speak for the bloc and, in the case of the speakership issue, echoed the statement of Visayan bloc lead convenor and former representative Alfredo Benitez that they will honor the 15-21 agreement.

“There is no such thing as coup to unseat Alan Peter Cayetano as Speaker,” Paduano said, adding that the 15-21 agreement still stands, and the deal brokered by the President should be respected.

He said the coup rumor only sows confusion and divisiveness in the House and that “those who orchestrate it have a hidden agenda.”

Paduano also clarified that only 13 Visayan representatives are members of Frasco’s committee.

Cebu Reps. Raul del Mar and Rodrigo Abellanosa also denied Frasco’s claim that the Visayas bloc agreed to support Cayetano’s position that there is no urgency to resolve ABS-CBN’s franchise issue.

But Frasco clarified yesterday that he “merely expressed what congressmen in the House already know and believe to be true – that we respect the Speaker who has majority support and that all of us, majority and minority, observe courtesy and protocol among our colleagues in the handling of matters assigned to specific committees.” – Artemio Dumlao, Gilbert Bayoran, Edu Punay

ALAN PETER CAYETANO LORD ALLAN VELASCO
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