Cayetano apologizes to Sotto
File photo shows Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Senate President Vicente Sotto III chatting while waiting for President Duterte’s State of the Nation Address.
STAR/File
Cayetano apologizes to Sotto
Cecille Suerte Felipe (The Philippine Star) - October 9, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines Senate President Vicente Sotto III has accepted the apology of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano over his blaming the Senate for any delay in the passage of the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for next year.

“Accepted (the apology) and I said we will do our best to work on the time we have as the Senate always does,” Sotto said yesterday.

He said Cayetano relayed his apology in a phone call. Sotto said the Speaker vowed to transmit the General Appropriations Bill 1 (GAB1) by Nov. 5, or three weeks behind the original schedule of Oct. 15 due to the House’s suspension of session until Nov. 16.

“Yes, he called. He promised to submit by Nov. 5 their proposed copies of the different budget books, therefore the GAB, which they will approve on third reading. I said that will help us, especially our finance chairman,” Sotto said.

Cayetano’s moving for the suspension of session and the passage on second reading of the budget measure was seen by critics as a ploy to prevent Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco from replacing him as speaker by Oct. 14, based on their term-sharing “gentleman’s agreement.” Velasco said Cayetano’s move was tantamount to taking the national budget hostage.

Cayetano admitted calling Sotto to apologize. “I called up the Senate President and I asked him to extend to the whole Senate that I apologize if it came across that I am criticizing or passing the blame to the Senate if there is a delay,” he said in a Facebook post.

He clarified that it’s not his intention to blame the Senate. “It is because some believe that we will not be able to forward the bill to the Senate and they won’t be able to start on Nov. 17, one day after the Nov. 16 schedule,” he said.

Earlier, Sotto took offence at Cayetano’s assertion that the Senate should be blamed for any delay in the enactment of the budget as the abrupt suspension of House session would only cause a one-day delay in the House’s third and final reading of the budget bill and its transmission to the Senate.

“How can he say that the delay is only one day? And why should we take the blame? Under the rules, the House should first approve a measure on second reading, third and final reading before we (Senate) accept it,” Sotto pointed out.

Not just one day

Sen. Panfilo Lacson also said the period between Oct. 12 and 14 when the Senate is supposed to receive the transmitted GAB, and Nov.17 – the day Cayetano had promised to have it transmitted – is definitely not a one-day difference as claimed by the Speaker.

“With that said, I have just suggested to the Speaker if it’s possible for him to resume their session, which is merely suspended and not adjourned, before All Saints’ Day just to approve on third and final reading the House version of the budget measure and thereafter transmit the same to us,” Lacson said in a videoconference with reporters Wednesday.

“I also told him the senators, especially the finance committee vice chairpersons, need at least one week to study the House version and submit to the mother committee our reports,” he said.

“Another week will be needed for the finance committee to consolidate everything and file its committee report. In so doing, we can start floor debates immediately after we resume session on Nov. 16, or even before that,” he added.

“That is the only way we can ensure the timely passage of the budget measure. We cannot afford an impasse involving the most important piece of legislation that Congress has to pass: the national budget, which I have consistently regarded as the lifeblood of our economy, if not our country.”

Clear signal

Lacson also said the President should come up with a clear signal to settle the leadership row between Cayetano and Velasco even if the Palace and the House of Representatives are separate and co-equal branches of government.

Lacson clarified that a presidential intervention in the squabble over the speakership is not anomalous, noting that even in the United States, such issue is left to the ruling party to settle.

Lacson noted that President Duterte, as chairman of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan (PDP–Laban), did not deny having brokered the term-sharing between Cayetano and Velasco.

“I think the clearer the signal the more the issue will be resolved. If the position given by Malacañang is not clear especially the President because after all, he’s the leader of the party. So that’s why their respective interpretations are confusing,” Lacson noted.

He said it would be better for the party leader to give a specific instruction or state a clear position on the issue.

“That doesn’t just happen here. Even in the US, the Speaker’s choice is sometimes left to the ruling party. So I don’t think it’s anomalous for the President to really make his position clear on who exactly should the Speaker. Whether it’s Speaker Cayetano or Rep Velasco. Just be clear to avoid such trouble,” the senator said in Filipino and English. “The budget is affected. It’s a waste.”

Lacson said the House is supposed to transmit the GAB1 to the Senate before Congress goes on break on Oct. 14 to allow senators to further scrutinize the allocation for next year’s nation expenditures.

“GAB1 should have been printed by Oct. 14, then transmit to the Senate. And there’s enough time. They would have approved it in a week on second reading on Tuesday. And since certified urgent, they can approve it on third reading then they will print. By Oct. 14 we have the HOR version,” Lacson explained.

The House, however, decided to abruptly suspend session on Oct. 6.

Lacson declined to say whether the move to suspend session was self-serving on the part of Cayetano. “I don’t know. But definitely for me it doesn’t serve the interest of the national budget,” he said.

Under the term-sharing agreement, Cayetano was supposed to lead the House for the first 15 months upon his election on July 22, 2019 and Velasco would take over for the remaining 21 months of the 18th Congress.

While Cayetano said that the speakership change would take place in November, Velasco clarified that his term ended on Sept. 30.

Sacrificed

Independent opposition Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay lamented that Congress’ mandated power of the purse has been bastardized, and “sacrificed to the altar of the ongoing House leadership squabble.”

For the President’s son, Davao City Rep. Paolo Duterte, his colleagues should just vote for somebody who can unify the more than 300 members of Congress.

“If and when the day comes that we are called to select the leader of this House, I hope we vote for someone who is committed, who understands what we want to achieve for our constituents, and who can fight for and with us, and unify the 300 members of this House of Representatives despite our many differences,” the younger Duterte said in a statement. He stressed that both Cayetano and Velasco are “good friends” of his.

“And when we do make that decision, I hope we can find it in our hearts to vote for someone, not just for convenience or affiliation, but whom we feel strongly can represent the House with the dignity that it deserves,” Duterte said.

He said he was sorry to see the House mired in a controversy that threatened to affect its work on serving the people.

“I am saddened that it has come to this —a House divided. And if we remain a House divided, we will fail in our mandate to serve the people as their representatives,” he maintained.

He said that while Velasco has the right to claim the speakership, Cayetano appears to have the support of a large number of lawmakers. – Delon Porcalla, Edith Regalado

ALAN PETER CAYETANO VICENTE SOTTO
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