Rivals Cayetano, Velasco 'agreed to work together' in meeting with Duterte: spox

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 13 2020 03:22 PM | Updated as of Oct 13 2020 07:13 PM

MANILA— Malacañang said Tuesday newly-elected House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco and his ousted predecessor Taguig Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano "agreed to work together" in their meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte, ending a leadership battle that was threatening to delay funds vital to rebuilding the country's battered economy.

Duterte had summoned the tw lawmakers to the Malacañang golf club to talk about the 2021 national budget, which faced possible delay over the pair's rivalry for the House of Representatives' top post, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said.

"In the course of the meeting, the two representatives agreed to work together as one majority in order to ensure the timely passage of the 2021 budget and other priority legislation of the Duterte administration," Roque said in a statement.

Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go, who was at the meeting, said the President talked to the 2 lawmakers in a fatherly way.

"All is well. Parang tatay si Tatay Digong kinausap mga anak niya. Pinagpayuhan na magkaisa. One majority and pass the budget on time para sa sambayanang Pilipino," he said in a text message.

(Tatay Digong was like a father talking to his children. He advised them to unite, be part of one majority, and pass the budget on time for the Filipino nation.)

The President wore sunglasses during the meeting because he had almost no sleep, said Go, who was his former longtime aide.

Velasco replaced Cayetano as Speaker earlier Tuesday with support from 186 of the 299-member lower house, ahead of a 4-day special session called by President Rodrigo Duterte to finalize the P4.5-trillion national budget.

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 suspended session until Nov. 16, just before Velasco was 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.

The 75-year-old President faces the enormous task of pulling the Philippine economy, which before the coronavirus pandemic was one of Asia's fastest-growing, out of recession and creating work for millions left jobless.

Duterte told the lower chamber on Thursday to settle its row over the term-sharing agreement to get the budget passed.

"The message has been received, the priority is the budget not politics," Roque said of the change in House leadership.

"The president is optimistic (the budget) will be passed."
 
The Philippines is forecast to see a 6.9-percent economic contraction this year, the World Bank has said, the biggest since the 1980s and worse than the government's projected 5.5-percent decline.

Its recovery has been constrained by an unrelenting first wave of infections since March, with more than 340,000 cases, Southeast Asia's highest number, limiting its ability to fully reopen businesses, internal travel and restart domestic and international tourism.

— With a report from Reuters