Lawmakers clash over budget as speakership change nears
Allies of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco traded barbs ahead of next month’s change in the House leadership – an agreement brokered by President Duterte at the outset of the 18th Congress in July last year.
Michael Varcas, file
Lawmakers clash over budget as speakership change nears
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - September 20, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — A word war has erupted over the 2021 national budget between congressmen linked to the two leaders of the House of Representatives, whose roles are set to switch in October under a term-sharing agreement of the speakership.

Allies of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco traded barbs ahead of next month’s change in the House leadership – an agreement brokered by President Duterte at the outset of the 18th Congress in July last year.

Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte and Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. hurled accusations at each other, starting with Teves questioning the “bigger allocation” for infrastructure projects in Villafuerte’s hometown during Thursday’s budget hearing.

Teves confronted Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) officials with “rumors” that Cayetano’s Taguig City supposedly got an P8-billion share of the agency’s 2021 budget, while Villafuerte’s Camarines Sur province has an allocation of P11.8 billion.

Teves argued that it was unfair for some cities and provinces to get more funds than others that have recorded higher absorptive capacity, or the ability to actually spend the money allotted to them.

“I really can’t understand why others are receiving P8 billion while some don’t even get P2 billion,” he said. “I want to understand, my constituents to understand, the whole country to understand, and I hope it would reach the ears of the President that there’s a big disparity here.”

Teves belongs to the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) bloc in the House which is led by Velasco, the incoming speaker.

Riled up, Villafuerte issued a statement accusing Teves of being a “hatchet man” of the Velasco bloc in an alleged bid to botch the speedy passage of the 2021 budget under Cayetano’s term as speaker.

“It is clear as day that Congressman Teves has launched this chicanery on the basis of mere hearsay as part of the sinister ploy hatched by the Velasco camp, in cahoots with former Negros Occidental representative Alfredo Abelardo Benitez, to wreck Speaker Cayetano’s commitment to fast-track the approval of the 2021 GAA (General Appropriations Act) by hopefully finishing the committee and plenary deliberations on the budget in record time by end-September,” he said.

On the DPWH allocation for Camarines Sur, Villafuerte did not confirm or deny the allegation of Teves, but argued that his province has five congressional districts so P11.8 billion should not be questionable.

“So what harm has been done to him and to his legislative district when it is getting P2 billion worth of public works projects?” Villafuerte asked, pointing out that a quick check on the DPWH’s proposed budget showed that at least 165 congressional districts are set to receive even less than P2 billion.

He then urged Teves to be “more circumspect next time and not allow himself to become the hatchet man of the Velasco-Benitez tandem.”

When asked for comment, Benitez also slammed Villafuerte and questioned the P420-million funding for the construction of the provincial capitol in Camarines Sur.

“If you (Villafuerte) have nothing to hide, explain to the Filipino people why the national government has to shoulder the construction of your provincial capitol that costs more then P420 million?” he said.

In response, Villafuerte said the project is “above board” and a necessity, as the local government sought funding support from Malacañang three years ago to build what turned out to be a cutting edge, environment-friendly structure to replace the long-condemned provincial capitol building.

NATIONAL BUDGET
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