MANILA— Calls for the House of Representatives to reopen sessions on the 2021 General Appropriations Bill mount with Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco joining the chorus of those condemning the House leadership for its abrupt termination and approval of the bill on second reading.
In a statement, Velasco, who is contending for the speakership under a term-sharing agreement with House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, joined his colleagues in calling for the reopening of sessions on the national budget (House Bill No. 7727), adding that they should carry out their "sacred constitutional mandate of passing the proposed 2021 General Appropriations Act.”
"The hasty approval of the spending plan of the Duterte Administration on second reading without observing the full budget process and the abrupt suspension of House sessions imperiled the enactment of vital measures, particularly the 2021 budget—the single most important piece of legislation that we pass every year," he said.
“The premature termination of budget deliberations has signaled the alarm bells from the halls of Congress to the Senate, from the nation’s economic managers to the business community," Velasco added.
He also told his colleagues to set aside political differences in the meantime and work together for next year's budget.
"The budget issue is far bigger than the fight for speakership. Blackmailing the Executive Department to cede to one’s personal ambition or holding the budget hostage in order to achieve one’s political whim is a great disservice to the Filipino people," he said.
In an unprecedented move on Tuesday, majority of congressmen approved on second reading the P4.5-trillion 2021 national budget upon Cayetano's motion, terminating deliberations as the Speakership battle raged.
Observers said this was Cayetano's move to prevent any attempts to unseat him on October 14, the date set for the supposed Speakership takeover of Velasco, per a term-sharing agreement brokered by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Cayetano 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.
Senators cautioned this would delay the upper chamber's deliberations on the spending plan and could lead to a reenacted budget at the start of the new year.
Oriental Mindoro Rep. Doy Leachon earlier said the Velasco camp is joining calls for the resumption of House sessions to tackle the budget.
"I read the manifesto of minority bloc and the allies and the group of congressman Lord Velasco is actually joining that clamor. In fact we are denouncing that the termination is actually violative of the rules of congress violative also of the constitution," he said.
Buhay Party-list Rep. Jose “Lito” Atienza also echoed Leachon.
“We vehemently urge the Speaker to immediately reopen the plenary discussion on the 2021 national budget, so we can scrutinize and properly allocate the budget of every sector and government agencies pursuant to the process provided for in the Constitution,” he said.
The session has been suspended following the approval of the budget on second reading.
But Leachon said like many other lawmakers, he believes there are many items that still need to be tackled. He also said they are joining the minority bloc in condemning the termination of the budget deliberations, calling it a violation of congressional rules and the constitution.
Before this, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman also called for the resumption of session at the House on the 2021 Budget and urged Cayetano to withdraw his motion to approve the budget and end debates.
Lagman explained he has other matters he wants to discuss, including questions to the social welfare and foreign affairs departments.
He asked Cayetano to keep the budget process away from the speakership row.
"That is the call of the speaker, I think he's clinging on to that position should be really isolated from the budget process because these are completely different things, these should not in any way hold hostage the budget or railroad it to the extent of delaying the process actually," he said.
The Makabayan bloc also wants the House to resume sessions before November to reopen deliberations on the 2021 National Budget.
In their weekly video conference, ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro read the statement of the bloc.
"We in the Makabayan bloc call for the resumption of the abruptly terminated budget deliberations so that the people's call for health, education, jobs, and aid can be prioritized. The current militarist and pork-laden budget, prematurely approved on second reading, only serves the interests of President Duterte's tyrannical rule."
"Those trying to block the budget deliberations are obviously the ones who will stand to gain, disregarding the people's call for a national budget more attuned to the Filipino people's current need during this time of the COVID pandemic."
Makabayan pointed out that the Constitution mandates that Congress conduct deliberations that are open to the public and on record, for the sake of transparency and for posterity.
"Abruptly terminating the plenary session is a dereliction of duty on the part of the House. We call on the House leadership to immediately resume the suspended plenary session, reconsider the approval on second reading, and continue the public deliberations on the General Appropriations Bill. We in the Makabayan bloc, as independent fiscalizers of the administration, take this job very seriously. We will continue to scrutinize the budget and fight for the calls of the Filipino people," the bloc said.