House session suspension may delay 2021 budget passage, Senate leaders warn

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 06 2020 06:46 PM | Updated as of Oct 06 2020 10:29 PM

MANILA— Several senators on Tuesday said that the passage of the P4.5-trillion 2021 national budget may be delayed after the House of Representatives decided to suspend session until next month amid a feud over the Speakership.

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and his allies hurriedly passed the 2021 budget on second reading and suspended the chamber’s session until November 16 following allegations from Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco that he was holding the spending plan hostage to stay at the chamber's helm. 

The two have a power-sharing agreement that Velasco seeks to enforce, while Cayetano hopes to stay on at least until December, citing the budget deliberations.

“The HOR has just disregarded the request priority of the President to pass the budget,” Senate President Vicente Sotto III told reporters in a text message.

“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!” he said.

Under the law, the House must approve on final reading the National Expenditure Program (NEP) before the Senate can tackle the spending bill in plenary.

Congress needs to approve the 2021 budget and transmit it for the President’s signature before year-end as the current government funding expires on December 31, 2020.

If the new spending bill is not enacted into law before the New Year, the government will be forced to spend based on allocations stipulated under the 2020 appropriations law that does not include several projects meant to cushion the health and economic impact of COVID-19.

“We were hoping that the House would approve the budget bill on third reading BEFORE the congressional break next week as was promised,” Senate Finance Committee chair Sonny Angara said in a separate text message.

“I hope the original schedule could still be followed but at the end of the day, we can not impose on our House colleagues but only plead and appeal to them,” he said.

Cayetano and his allies halted the House’s session a day after Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco - his rival for the Speakership - threatened to unseat him on October 14, the original date when the Taguig lawmaker promised to step down under a term-sharing deal.

Last year, the House delayed that passage of the 2020 budget after several congressmen bickered about allocations for their respective districts.