Palace 'confident' lawmakers have 'enough time' to OK pandemic funds despite House feud

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 07 2020 04:35 PM

President Rodrigo Duterte speaks with House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Jay Velasco and several members of the House of Representatives in a meeting at the Malacañang Golf (MALAGO) Clubhouse in Malacañang Park, Manila on Sept. 29, 2020. Robinson Niñal, Presidential Photo/File 

MANILA -- Malacañang on Wednesday said it was "confident" that Congress would have "enough time" to pass the 2021 national budget, which included funds for the country's response to the coronavirus pandemic, despite lawmakers' feud for the top post in the House of Representatives.

The House approved Tuesday on second reading the P4.5-trillion 2021 national budget upon Speaker Alan Peter 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.

The constitution requires the spending plan to originate from the House before it can be tackled by the Senate in plenary. 

The budget's second-reading approval on Tuesday proves that it came from the lower chamber and would allow the Senate to continue with its own deliberations even during the Oct. 17-Nov. 16 adjournment of Congress, said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque. 

"Tingin ko naman, walang sisihan na mangyayari... Puwede po yung full blown deliberation, maski on break ang Kongreso," Roque said in an interview with government-run PTV. 

"We are confident that the Senate has enough time to finish its deliberations. And there should be no reason for delay. There is plenty of time between now and November 16 for committee deliberations to continue. And come November, there will be enough time for plenary deliberations in the Senate," he added in a statement.

Several senators earlier warned that the House power play could delay the budget approval. 

“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.

President Rodrigo Duterte and the Executive branch "cannot really intervene in the choice of who the next Speaker will be", Roque said earlier Wednesday. 

Velasco on Monday night 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. Velasco is also a close ally of the President's daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio. 

“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,” said Roque. 

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 sickened nearly 330,000 people in the country.

The delayed passage of the 2019 national budget affected the economic growth that year.