COVID-19 rules snubbed in Velasco election? Up to House to chide members, says Palace

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 13 2020 02:48 PM | Updated as of Oct 13 2020 03:02 PM

House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco and allies arrive at the House of Representative, Quezon City, October 13, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA— It is up to the House of Representatives to reprimand its members for possible violations of pandemic protocols when they elected Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco as their new leader on Tuesday, said Malacañang. 

Some 186 lawmakers around noon voted to ratify Velasco's Monday election as Speaker and oust his predecessor, Taguig Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano. Photos from the event show lawmakers supposedly failing to observe physical distancing and violating a restriction on mass gathering. 

"I leave it up to the House of Representatives to address [that]. Napakahirap naman po na (it is difficult for) the President, being a co-equal branch, will interfere even with the manner by which the House of Representatives met," said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque. 

"Kinakailangan lahat po ng mga namumuno sa bayan dito ay iisa po ang boses pagdating sa mask, hugas at iwas," he told reporters. 

(All leaders of the nation should have one voice when it comes to wearing masks, washing hands, and avoiding possible infection.)

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Pressed if lawmakers would be sanctioned for the supposed violations, Roque said: "We leave it na po to the House of Representatives." 

"The members of Congress can only be held accountable by their peers. Iyan po ang consistent ruling ng ating Korte Suprema," he said. 

(That is the consistent ruling of our Supreme Court.)

Duterte last year forged the two lawmakers' "gentleman's agreement" in which Cayetano was supposed to serve until this month, followed by Velasco for the remaining 21 months of the 18th Congress.

However, Cayetano last week moved to pass the spending bill on second reading and abruptly suspend session until Nov. 16, just before Velasco is supposed to take over the House leadership. 

This spawned concern that the 2021 national budget, which included funds for the coronavirus pandemic, might be delayed. If lawmakers fail to pass the 2021 budget by Dec. 31, the government will rely on a reenacted 2020 spending plan. 

Duterte has certified the budget as urgent and called on Congress to hold a special session from Oct. 13 to 16.