MANILA (2nd UPDATE)— President Rodrigo Duterte should extend the period of the special session he called Congress to hold to ensure timely passage of the P4.5-trillion 2021 national budget, Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman said Saturday.
In a statement, Lagman said the President should "amend his call" and add four more days to his request for Congress to hold a special session from October 13 to 16.
Duterte had on Friday certified as urgent the 2021 General Appropriations Bill, House Bill No. 7727, as he sought to make sure next year's budget, which has provisions to address the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, is passed on time amid a House Speakership tussle between allied lawmakers.
"Although the four-day special session of the Congress from October 13 to 16, 2020 called by President Rodrigo Duterte is welcome as it is needed to resume consideration of the national budget, the short period may not be sufficient to assure the approval on second and third readings of the 2021 General Appropriations Bill (HB No. 7727)," Lagman said.
He said the special session should be extended to the week after— from October 19 to 22— so that lawmakers' individual amendments may be tackled by plenary.
"More time is required so that the bill for approval on second reading already includes the committee and individual amendments which should be proposed and approved in Plenary session.
"The long tradition of a “small committee” effecting the amendments after the approval of the budget bill on second reading should be abandoned in order to assure transparency in the proceedings which is not achieved by the furtive conclave of the small panel," Lagman said.
On Friday, Duterte issued a proclamation certifying the spending bill as urgent just a day after he called on feuding members of the House to fix a leadership wrangling that imperiled passage of the national budget.
The President and several senators warned of the possible delayed approval of the 2021 budget after House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano abruptly suspended session.
Cayetano moved to pass the national budget on second reading on Tuesday, terminating crucial deliberations on the spending bill days before he was supposed to hand over House leadership to Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco.
The two lawmakers had agreed on a term-sharing deal brokered by the President, in which Cayetano was supposed to serve until this month, followed by Velasco for 21 months.
But the Speaker sought to stay at the House helm until at least December, citing the need to focus on passing the budget.
His move to suspend session until the middle of November, however, drew concerns and criticism from senators, who said this could further delay approval of the spending plan as it would set back the date of the transmittal of the measure from the House to the Senate.
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.
The delayed passage of the 2021 budget may lead to a reenacted 2020 spending plan, which has no allocations to address the continuing COVID-19 crisis.
Cayetano vows fruitful special session, lawmakers say he has 'lost moral authority' to lead House
In a Facebook Live video on Saturday afternoon, Cayetano said majority of House members were holding a caucus in light of the President's order.
"So over the weekend po mga kababayan we're working on the budget. Asahan niyo, the special session will be very fruitful. Ako nakikiusap, sa lahat po, isantabi muna natin ang pulitika, magtulong-tulong muna tayo sa budget," he said.
(So over the weekend, we're working on the budget. Expect that the special session will be very fruitful. I ask everyone to set aside politics, work together for the budget.)
Meanwhile, several lawmakers said Saturday Cayetano has "lost his moral authority" to lead the House for his handling of the budget deliberations.
“Speaker Cayetano has miserably failed in his duty to lead the House in its mandate to review and pass the budget in the manner provided for in the Constitution and rules of the House,” said Oriental Mindoro 1st District Rep. Salvador “Doy” Leachon, a Velasco ally.
He said it was a shame that the President had to intervene to get the budget moving. He said Duterte's call for a special session proved that Cayetano's move to suspend session pending the spending bill "did not sit well with him."
“With the President issuing the Proclamation No. 27 is a clear indication that the suspension of session for more than a month did not sit well with him for being unconstitutional. There could be no other interpretation except that the suspension was illegal and unconstitutional especially when the President said that it is incumbent for Congress to pass a budget through a process that is legal and constitutional,” said Leachon in a statement.
Cayetano has lost his right to head the chamber because of this actions, said Cebu City Rep. Rodrigo Abellanosa.
“Speaker Cayetano has failed in his sworn duty to uphold and defend the Constitution when he caused the railroading of the budget and suspended the session without giving all lawmakers the chance to scrutinize and allocate the budget properly,” Abellanosa said.
“With all due respect, I think the Speaker already lost his moral authority to lead the House,” he said, saying Cayetano's only remaining option is to resign.