MANILA— President Rodrigo Duterte thinks it was wrong for the House of Representatives to suspend its session this week without first passing the 2021 national budget that includes funds for the coronavirus pandemic, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said Friday.
The House on Tuesday heeded Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano's motion to pass the budget on second reading and suspend session until the middle of November days before he was supposed to hand over House leadership to Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco per a term-sharing agreement.
While the Senate can hold deliberations during the Oct. 17 to Nov. 16 Congress break, senators cannot tackle the bill in plenary as long as it is not yet passed on third and final reading by the House.
“I think that’s the message of the President: that it (session suspension) shouldn’t have happened because they should have stuck with the calendar,” Nograles told CNN Philippines, referring to the President's address Thursday night.
The House “cannot presume" that there will be no politicking or any other development that could delay the budget when it resumes session in November, he said.
“Any slight delay on that will have a cascading effect… What if something else happens?” said Nograles. “Why take a chance, when you can already pass the budget now, as prescribed by the legislative calendar?”
Asked if House leaders were holding the budget hostage to keep their posts, Nograles said: “Iyan ang perception ng mga kababayan natin. Parang kumbaga ang nangyayari dito, naghihirap na
kami, nagugutom na kami, kailangan namin ng tulong tapos politika pa rin ang pinag-aawayan.”
(That's the perception of the people. They are thinking we are suffering, going hungry, we need help, and yet they are still fighting over politics.)
He urged the House to “convene and begin again budget deliberations and pass the budget before the break.”
Congress will take another break on Dec. 14 for the holidays.
The current national budget expires on Dec. 31. If Congress fails to pass the 2021 spending bill before this, the government will have to operate under a reenacted 2020 budget, which does not have allocations for all programs addressing the coronavirus pandemic.
Duterte had pleaded for the House to act on the budget Thursday, telling lawmakers: “Huwag naman sana ninyong sobrahan ang laro sa Congress na iyong budget mismo, ang nailagay sa alanganin. I am just appealing to you.”
(Don't be excessive in your play there in Congress that the budget is put in jeopardy.)
“Either you resolve the issue sa impasse n’yo d’yan and pass the budget legally, constitutionally. ‘Pag hindi n’yo ginawa, ako ang gagawa para sa inyo,” he said in a taped public address.
(If you do not do that, I will do that for you.)
Duterte last year forged a "gentleman's agreement" for Cayetano to serve until this month, followed by Velasco for 21 months.