MANILA— Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Thursday said he had reached out to leaders of the House of Representatives, asking them to resume sessions and approve the 2021 budget before November to avoid having a reenacted spending bill next year.
The House was supposed to transmit the appropriations measure to the Senate "between October 12 and 14," but Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano abruptly halted sessions earlier this week amid a power struggle at the House.
"I have just suggested to the Speaker... if it's possible for them to resume their session before All Saints' Day just to approve on third and final reading the House version of the budget measure and thereafter transmit the same to us," Lacson told reporters in a text message.
Cayetano earlier said that the abrupt session suspension in the House would only delay the transmission of the budget bill to the Senate by "one day," but senators disputed this, saying the printing of the spending bill alone would take at least 3 days.
"I also told him (Cayetano) the senators, especially the Finance committee vice chairpersons, need at least 1 week to study their version and submit to the mother committee our reports, and another week for the Finance committee to consolidate everything and file the committee report," he said.
Lacson said he also spoke with House Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte, who committed to discuss the proposal with other House leaders.
"Initially, he (Villafuerte) argued against holding a special session," Lacson said.
"When I explained that both Houses merely suspended, not adjourned and therefore, a special session is not necessary, and therefore can resume session anytime, he said he will talk to the Speaker," he said.
Under the law, senators cannot tackle any budget bill in plenary unless the House transmits an approved version of the spending measure to the Senate.
Congress needs to pass the new budget into law before the New Year as the General Appropriations Act expires on December 31.
Without a new appropriations measure, the government will be forced to spend based on the last spending law, which does not include COVID-19 response programs.