As House speakership row rages, Palace says it ‘cannot intervene’

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 07 2020 10:45 AM | Updated as of Oct 07 2020 10:54 AM

President Rodrigo Duterte shares a light moment with some guests during the Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP) Thanksgiving Night at the Peninsula Manila in Makati City on June 24, 2019. With the President are Sen. Christopher Lawrence "Bong" Go, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, Sen. Francis Tolentino, Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, former House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez. Karl Norman Alonzo, Presidential Photo/File

MANILA — Malacañang said Wednesday it “cannot intervene” in the fight for the House Speakership, which it said was unlikely to delay the 2021 budget that included funds for the coronavirus pandemic. 

The House of Representatives on Tuesday approved on second reading the P4.5-trillion 2021 national budget upon Speaker Alan Cayetano's motion. His allies also moved to suspend session until Nov. 16, pre-empting the supposed takeover of Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco by Oct. 14, per a term-sharing agreement.

Cayetano was supposed to serve as Speaker until this month, followed by Velasco, under a term-sharing deal that President Rodrigo Duterte forged. Last week, Cayetano offered to resign, which was quickly rejected by majority of lawmakers. 

“Whether or not that is in compliance with the gentleman’s agreement, I leave that up to the parties,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a CNN Philippines interview.

“In an issue such as this, there is no judge. Even the courts cannot intervene because the organization and leadership of the House is a purely internal matter. And the Executive cannot really intervene in the choice of who next Speaker will be,” he added. 

Velasco on Monday night had sought an audience with Duterte, who told the lawmaker that he had “a right” to run as Speaker, Roque earlier told reporters. The President and the lawmaker are party-mates in PDP-Laban.

The Palace thanks the House for “its speedy action” with the budget, said Roque. 

“As you know, when a proposed law is passed on second reading, the third reading is ceremonial… The expectation is when they come back on November 14, the House will approve the third and final reading the printed copy of the House bill,” he said. 

The Senate can hold deliberations “on its own” during the Congress break, Roque said. 

But several senators warned the House break may delay the passage of the spending plan. Senate President Vicente Sotto III said there was "no way" for the Senate to finish the budget if it is not submitted by the House before the Oct. 14 break.

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

“I don’t think it will have any effect on passing the budget on time,” said Roque. 

“The message of the President to both Speaker Alan Cayetano and Lord Allan Velasco is do what you have to do but the budget cannot be delayed. We cannot have a reenacted budget,” he said. 

A reenacted budget does not include allocations for the COVID-19 pandemic that has left millions of Filipinos jobless, dragged the economy into recession, and locally sickened at 326,000 people.