‘Government can’t afford to have reenacted budget’
Cecille Suerte Felipe, Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) - October 9, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The government cannot afford to have a reenacted budget for next year as this year’s outlay was bereft of funds for COVID-19 recovery measures, particularly for the procurement of vaccines, testing equipment and additional personal protective equipment for frontliners, Sen. Bong Go said yesterday.

“We are not students who still need a recess or suspension. We will continue the work and there is no reason for us not to finish or pass this budget on time. If we really want to, there is a way,” Go said, apparently referring to the abrupt suspension of session by the House of Representatives.

Some lawmakers have expressed fear the suspension would delay the enactment of the proposed P4.5-trillion budget for 2021.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano’s move last Oct. 6 to suspend House session a week ahead of schedule was seen by many as a political maneuver to keep the speakership from Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, with whom he had a term-sharing agreement forged last year. But before going on an unexpected break, the House passed the budget bill on second reading.

Go also expressed concern that a reenacted budget would prevent the implementation of measures for reviving the country’s economy ravaged by pandemic. “How can we return to normal life if we do not provide the appropriate budget needed to lift our country out of poverty?”

“Let me remind everyone that we cannot afford to have a reenacted budget next year. Let us not pass on to people the burden of passing an appropriate budget for 2021. Let us remember that by Jan. 1, a budget should have been passed,” Go said.

“Think about it, if we do not have a suitable budget for next year, where will the government get funding for COVID-19 recovery measures – such as the purchase of vaccines, testing equipment, additional PPEs for frontliners, and other health equipment?” Go said.

He stressed that funds should also be set aside for the construction of health infrastructure, such as quarantine facilities as well as for enhancing the capacity of hospitals.

House rift hurts budget bill

An administration ally has admitted the raging fight over the speakership has affected deliberations on the proposed outlay for next year.

“Sad to say that (2021 national budget) has become a victim of parliamentary tactics. Ganun talaga eh (That’s how it is)! You have to abide by the rules,” Deputy Speaker Neptali Gonzales II admitted to “The Chiefs”on TV5 Wednesday night.

“From our viewpoint, the Speaker was given a free hand with the 184-1 votes. It was a fresh mandate and no more term-sharing,” Gonzales, an ally of Cayetano, said.

“If there’s no speakership fight, it is possible that there would not have been a suspension of session,” he said.

But he stressed: “There’s nothing wrong if the House wants to suspend the sessions because it’s the prerogative of the House to do so.

“Let’s not fool ourselves – there’s a fight over the speakership,” he said.

“Let’s call a spade a spade! It has become a parliamentary warfare whether we like it or not. Being a parliamentary warfare, you don’t announce in a press conference or in a Facebook post or whatever, what you are going to do,” Gonzales pointed out.

He said the camp of Velasco was “outmaneuvered,” and that was something they have to accept as “fact of life.”

Oriental Mindoro Rep. Doy Leachon, an ally of Velasco, said they really have the numbers to dislodge Cayetano, which is “161 as of now.” An aspirant seeking the speakership needs a simple majority of the 300-member House to elect its leader.

“They (lawmakers) know for a fact that an election is forthcoming,” he said in an interview over the ABS-CBN News Channel. “Even members of the House Minority are condemning the approval of the budget. They (Cayetano camp) suddenly terminated the budget.”

“People are actually expecting a fair and equitable budget considering this pandemic. There have still been a lot of agencies that were not subjected to plenary debates, and these all remained pending,” Leachon pointed out.

Leachon, a lawyer by profession, branded as “unconstitutional” the House leadership’s unilateral decision to suspend sessions for one month. “It’s unconstitutional because Congress is composed of two chambers. The budget has been sidelined as a consequence.”

Meantime, allies of Velasco slammed Cayetano for consistently exhibiting authoritarian leadership to the extent of breaking the rules of the House just to satisfy his desire to stay in power.

“While Cayetano and his allies are wallowing in tens of billions of DPWH allocations for their districts, the two districts of Cebu City are afforded only a measly fraction of a billion each. This is a big insult and affront to the people of Cebu,” Rep. Rodrigo Abellanosa said.

“Some lawmakers were asking about the huge budget allocated to Cayetano and his allies, but instead of answering, the Speaker decided to railroad the budget, compose a group of his friends to amend it, and suspend session to have an early break and to hold on to power,” he added.

Rep. Eric Pineda of party-list 1Pacman said a great majority of House members are unhappy with how Cayetano and his allies conducted the budget deliberations resulting in its abrupt passage.

He also pointed the irregular manner how the proposed 2021 national budget was approved without completing the deliberations for all government agencies.

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