Duterte to Velasco: It’s your right time now

Delon Porcalla, Edith Regalado - The Philippine Star
Duterte to Velasco: It�s your right time now
File photo from Rep. Lord Allan Velasco’s Instagram account shows the Marinduque lawmaker with President Duterte.
Rep. Lord Allan Velasco’s Instagram account

Cayetano calls for early break as House passes 2021 budget

MANILA, Philippines — It’s now the “right time” for him to take over as House speaker, Rep. Lord Allan Velasco said yesterday, quoting President Duterte during a meeting with him at Malacañang Monday night.

“The President was categorical when he said: ‘Lord, it is your right time now. I have already spoken. You have to insist on your right based on the term-sharing agreement,’ ” Velasco said in a statement.

The meeting between the President and Velasco was reportedly a private one with only Sen. Bong Go allowed to join them. It took place right after the weekly meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) at the Malago Clubhouse.

But Velasco’s dream of becoming speaker by Oct.14 still appears elusive. Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano sprang a surprise yesterday by moving for the chamber’s approval on second reading of the 2021 national budget and declaring the resumption of session on Nov.16.

The chamber had originally scheduled for Oct. 8 the budget measure’s second reading approval and for Oct.14 the third reading.

Velasco said Cayetano’s surprise move was “a desperate attempt to stay in power.”

“He (Cayetano) 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: Your time is up,” Velasco, chairman of the House energy committee, said.

“He has bastardized the institution we swore to protect and respect and committed serious violations of the Constitution to save himself,” he added.

Rep. Edcel Lagman, an independent opposition congressman, said the “abrupt termination of the plenary deliberations” on the GAB and its “premature approval on second reading” are “unprecedented in the history of the House.”

“The plenary scrutiny on the national budget has been sacrificed to the altar of the on-going House leadership squabble,” the Albay lawmaker said.

In his statement earlier yesterday, Velasco thanked the President for the “time shared” with him. He said their engagement was “more casual and like a father-son conversation.”

“We expect Speaker Alan Cayetano to resign on Oct.14 and to abide by the term-sharing agreement because his time is already up,” Velasco said.

He also debunked Cayetano’s claim that he has the numbers to keep himself as House leader come Oct.14.

Velasco, who belongs to Duterte’s PDP-Laban party, clarified that the “super majority does not belong to Speaker Cayetano” but to those in the ruling party and those under the administration coalition.

“Anyone who would renege on the term-sharing agreement from any member of the coalition is actually defying the wishes of the President,” he warned. The PDP-Laban party is the largest bloc in the House with about 64 House members.

“Whatever accomplishments of the House are the collective efforts of all the members of the super majority coalition because we cooperated with the House leadership,” he pointed out.

Oriental Mindoro Rep. Salvador Leachon, a key ally of Velasco, also expressed confidence that they have the numbers.

“After all, while Congress is a separate and distinct body, my colleagues fully respect the President, the agreement that he brokered and know that his mandate will be carried out more seamlessly if his preferred choice is elected as House Speaker,” he said.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said that what Duterte told Velasco during their private meeting was that it is within the right of the Marinduque congressman to seek the speakership.

“I cannot give you more detail other than Congressman Lord Allan sought permission from the President to run for Speaker, to which the President replied ‘it’s your right based on your agreement with Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano,’” Roque said in Filipino and English.

“To my knowledge, it’s Congressman Allan Velasco who requested the meeting and his wish was granted (Monday) night. This was after the President’s meeting with other Cabinet members and his address to the nation. It started around 10 p.m.,” he said.

On the surprise approval of the budget, Roque said: “That’s purely internal matter to the House of Representatives even as we thank the House for the early passage of the 2021 budget.”

Based on Congress’ calendar, the second regular session of Congress is suspended from Oct. 17 to Nov. 15 for the All Souls’ Day break.

Debates terminated

In a speech delivered on the floor, Cayetano moved to “terminate” plenary debates on the 2021 budget of different agencies and called for the approval of House Bill 7727, or the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) of 2021.

At the same time, the Speaker’s camp continued its purge of pro-Velasco lawmakers who were stripped of committee chairmanships, among them Reps. Sharon Garin of economic affairs, Helen Tan of health and Eric Martinez of youth and sports.

They were replaced respectively by Cayetano’s allies – Reps. Teodorico Haresco (Aklan), Lucille Nava (Guimaras) and Yul Servo (Manila).

Cayetano also created a “small committee” which would thresh out “individual amendments” to district allocations, which should be submitted before Nov. 5 prior to the finalization of the GAB that might be approved on third reading on Nov. 16.

The committee will be headed by Cayetano’s main ally, House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez. Its members include Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte and Reps. Mike Defensor, Eric Go Yap, Jonathan Sy-Alvarado, Joey Salceda and Stella Quimbo, among others.

Rep. Lito Atienza (Buhay party-list), an independent congressman, said the latest development was an indication of Cayetano’s desperation.

“This proves beyond doubt that Speaker Cayetano is desperately hanging on. He has just publicly confirmed that he is losing ground, that’s why he did it,” the former three-term Manila mayor observed.

“He didn’t care about constitutional integrity, throwing everything into the air and making Congress go on a long vacation. Ginulo niya lahat (He messed everything up) and he violated all the rules of the House,” Atienza said.

“Many of us were objecting at the top of our voices but again, we were muted on Zoom and all our objections were thrown out the window. This is typical of a poor loser – kapag natatalo ka na, guluhin mo na lang ang mesa, sunugin mo na lang ang bahay, ika nga (when you’re losing, you mess things up, burn the house down),” he said.

For senators, the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021 could be the casualty of the latest development in the House of Representatives.

“There is no way we can finish the budget if it is not submitted to us before the mandated break after Oct 14. Do not blame us!” Sotto told reporters via messaging app.

‘Reenacted’ budget’

He said that “most probably” the government would operate on a “reenacted” General Appropriations Act next year.

When asked whether he might be compelled to rush the passage of the money measure despite the tight timetable, he said: “I cannot promise anything. I cannot speak for my colleagues when it comes to the budget.”

Operating on a previous year’s budget frees up tens or even hundreds of billions of pesos in funding and gives Malacañang the leeway to spend them the way it wants to. The possibility of such gave rise to fears that such allocations may be used for election-related spending to favor administration candidates.

Sen. Sonny Angara, who chairs the Senate finance committee, said he was hoping that the House would approve the budget bill on third reading before the congressional break next week as was promised, so the Senate could begin its plenary debates upon resumption of sessions on Nov. 16.

“As it is the schedule is very tight. I hope the original schedule could still be followed but at the end of the day, we cannot impose on our House colleagues but only plead and appeal to them,” Angara said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the Senate has enough time to finish deliberations on time to avoid a re-enacted budget. “Depending on which date in November they can approve on third reading the House version of 2021 GAB, not to mention the nature of their amendments, I think we have enough time to finish our floor deliberations and avoid a re-enacted budget,” Lacson pointed out.

“Take note that they have to print the documents prior to transmittal to the Senate,” Lacson noted.

He also questioned a reported plan by the Department of Budget and Manager to render “For Later Release” the congressional initiatives in the 2021 budget, including institutional amendments.

“Instead of rendering ‘For Later Release’ all congressional initiatives without even consulting with the agencies under the executive, it should have asked the executive offices concerned what part of their budgets they could not implement and render those for later release. But if their mindset is to automatically tag ‘FLR’ anything outside the NEP including congressional initiatives, I don’t think it is healthy,” he said.

For his part, Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto said the House has the prerogative to suspend session until November.

“It is the prerogative of the House. The House is the originating chamber so the Senate can only start plenary debates after official receipt of the approved House bill,” Recto noted.

“The Senate traditionally holds morning to midnight debates for two weeks on the general appropriations act. That will still be observed this year. There will be no reenacted budget but a revamped budget is a certainty,” Recto pointed out.

In the Senate calendar, the suspension of sessions is set on Oct. 17 and resumption on Nov. 15. – Christina Mendez, Cecille Suerte-Felipe, and Paolo Romero

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