MANILA - Tempers flared between ABAKADA party-list Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz and Quezon City Congressman Christopher Belmonte and broke the monotony on the plenary floor within the 1st hour of the last day of the budget deliberations at the Lower House.
The interpellation of the sponsors of the budgets of government agencies had begun when dela Cruz approached Belmonte, who was floor leader on duty for this session, to ask if he can still do anything.
Belmonte, a distant nephew of Speaker Sonny Belmonte, was seated in the middle of the plenary--away from the interpellators. He was seen slightly fixing a table left ajar as he huddled with dela Cruz.
House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, apparently alerted to the brewing conflict, walked up to the 2, put his arm around dela Cruz and escorted him out of the session hall.
Interviewed after the incident, dela Cruz said he had registered as early as last night to interpellate the budget of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, but he arrived at the session hall today after the budget of the ARMM was approved.
The ARMM and National Council on Muslim Filipinos Budget was approved earlier in the session.
Dela Cruz denied it was a fight or that they came to blows, but he admitted to raising his voice.
Dela Cruz said Belmonte invited him to sit but he refused, telling Belmonte he only wants to find out what else he can he do.
Dela Cruz said he wanted to ask the ARMM about a government study that showed that the ARMM is a "failed experiment."
"Hindi naman came to blows. I didn't shake the table. I was holding some documents. Gusto niya mag upo. Naupo siya. Pinaupo niya rin ako. Wala namang ganun medyo mainit lang sila siguro."
Dela Cruz said Gonzales reminded him that the period of interpellation for the ARMM was over.
In the last 2 weeks of the budget deliberations in plenary, dela Cruz has taken long hours grilling various colleagues in plenary over the proposed budgets of the agencies they are sponsoring.
Dela Cruz has been religiously grilling agencies, alternating with other interpellators Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares and ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio who also took long periods of time grilling agencies.
It was Tinio's tweet that alerted media to the apparently aborted scuffle.
"2 representatives grappled with each other (literally) and nearly came to blows on the floor at the start of the last day of budget deliberation," Tinio tweeted.
Asked about this, dela Cruz dismissed the tweet. "Masyadong dramatic naman yun," he said.
Dela Cruz maintained that he is not out to delay the budget deliberations.
"I cannot delay the proceedings. If they want it to be passed now, they can always outvote us. We're only 7 in the independent minority.. Si Kit (Belmonte's nickname) wala akong prublema sa kaniya di naman nagsigawan tumaas boses ko. I was very concerned," he said.
Dela Cruz was eventually allowed to say his piece on the floor regarding the budget.
An hour after the incident, Tinio tweeted, "One of the reps involved wanted me to clarify that there was a heated exchange but no grappling involved."
Belmonte also told reporters it was a mere miscommunication between him and dela Cruz.
Belmonte said everyone is tired considering the long hours. He noted that it's business as usual and dela Cruz continues to interpellate.
"Parang grappling din yun. Nagpapalitan ng salita dito. Wala, no such thing. Business as usual. Pag nagkataasan ng boses normal lang yun dahil pagod na kami. Actually, surprised ako na pinapatulan yun ng media. For past 2 weeks, may small incidents like these. Di pinapansin. Na-exaggerate lang kasi may nagtweet. "