MANILA — Allies of House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano insisted Wednesday there was nothing irregular in what transpired at the House of Representatives on Tuesday that saw the rapid passage on second reading of the 2021 budget bill and the suspension of session ahead of schedule.
In an unprecedented move Tuesday, Cayetano terminated the debates on the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) that consequently suspended sessions until the middle of November.
He instead created a small panel to entertain committee and individual amendments, doing away with the traditional scrutiny associated with budget deliberations. Lawmakers may submit their proposed amendments until November 5.
In a press conference Wednesday, lawmakers allied with the Speaker defended what observers said was an attempt to prevent a change in leadership on October 14.
"Tawagin na nila na sagasa, railroading. But the Constitution empowers both houses of Congress to create its own rules eh. And that has been part of the House rules since the beginning," said Deputy Speaker Neptali Gonzalez II.
Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte added it was a "time-tested practice" to create such panel.
"Gusto ba nila ito para makapagtanong o para lang sa media mileage?" Villafuerte said, chiding critics of the move.
(Do they really want to be able to ask questions or just get media mileage?)
Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, with whom Cayetano has a term-sharing agreement for the chamber's top post, said the Constitution was violated when Cayetano abruptly suspended sessions without the concession of the Senate.
"[This] haphazard declaration of the suspension of session... contradicts and violates the provisions of the Constitution on the inter-parliamentary courtesy, as Congress is composed of two chambers where suspension of that long period of time must be with consent of the Senate of the Philippines in accordance with Section 16, Article 6 of the 1987 Constitution," Velasco said in a statement Tuesday.
Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza described Cayetano and his allies' actions as "political hooliganism" in their bid to control the House of Representatives.
"I don't know what to call it anymore but it's plain and simple political hooliganism. He's using gangsterism tactics to get what he wants," Atienza said.
"Why is he so clingy to the Speakership, power, and money?" he added.
Allies of Velasco last week sought to unseat Cayetano should he refuse to relinquish his post on October 14, the date set for the change in House leadership under the agreement brokered by President Rodrigo Duterte.
With the feud between the two men reaching new heights, some lawmakers said the lower chamber's exclusive "power of the purse" has been "sacrificed to the altar of the on-going House leadership squabble."
"The proposed budgets of 14 major departments, including their attached agencies, have not been deliberated and/or completed," Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said in a statement.
In a Facebook live after the session Tuesday, Cayetano said there would be no delay in the budget approval because it was in fact approved on 2nd reading ahead of schedule.
The approval, though, on final reading will have to wait until next month, he said, projecting that by Nov. 16, the Senate will already receive the version approved on final reading.
The Senate warned this would delay its deliberations on the budget, with some senators foreseeing there might be a need to reenact the 2020 budget.