The Palace said Monday President Rodrigo Duterte wants the P4.506 trillion national budget passed before the end of the year amid fears that squabbles within the House of Representatives could delay the spending plan.
“Let’s just say because the 2021 budget is also our biggest stimulus package, this is non-negotiable for the President. They must pass the budget on time,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Last week, Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. Questioned the huge infrastructure allocations for Taguig City and Camarines Sur, the legislative districts of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte.
Villafuerte fired back, accusing Teves of being a part of a ploy by supporters of Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco to torpedo plans to finish budget deliberations by the end of September.
Under a term-sharing agreement brokered by the President, Cayetano would be speaker until October, at which time Velasco would take over until the 18th Congress ends 21 months later.
As the deadline nears, however, his allies have become vocal about retaining Cayetano as speaker, citing his record.
Roque said the President leaves it to the discretion of the House members to decide on the leadership issue.
Despite heated exchanges over the weekend, both camps kept their peace in Monday’s session.
Talk of a plot to unseat Cayetano brewed over the alleged inequitable share of funds for lawmakers districts in the 2021 budget, fueled by a text message that the House Mindanao bloc led by the President’s son, Davao City Rep. Paolo Duterte, would declare the posts of Cayetano and deputy speakers vacant.
But party-list Rep. Eric Go Yap, House budget chairman, said the younger Duterte never said he would declare the posts vacant.
"What he said was that he would ask the Mindanao bloc if they have a complaint, then they should declare the posts vacant," Yap said in a TV interview.
Villafuerte said that Cayetano and the young Duterte have discussed the alleged brewing coup.
Yap said Monday the gentlemen's agreement involving the leadership of the House of Representatives will stand unless President Rodrigo Duterte changes his mind and decides that Cayetano should stay on as speaker.
Yap said there is a possibility that the President will make his wishes known before November and that all members of the House will abide by the decision.
The President, in a meeting with congressional leaders on Wednesday, was reported to have quipped "Kawawa naman si Lord (Poor Lord).""That could mean two things: Lord is pitiful because he won't be able to sit as speaker, or Lord is pitiful so he should sit as speaker,” Yap said.
At the moment, Yap said Cayetano is now focused on the passage of the proposed 2021 national government budget and has put the speakership row on the backburner.
“All that he told me was to focus on the deliberations on the 2021 budget,” he said.
Villafuerte, meanwhile, said the infrastructure allocations for the province of Camarines Sur and for Taguig City, which Teves questioned during the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) budget briefing last week.
Villafuerte said that out of the supposed P11.8 billion infrastructure budget for Camarines Sur, only P3.3 billion is actually allocated for his district.
He said the reason for the increase in the budget allocation for his district was the Camarines Sur Expressway and the Pasacao--Balatan Tourism Highway—two flagship projects that will be built there.
The same is true for Taguig City, one of whose two districts is represented by Cayetano and the other by his wife Lanie, Villafuerte said.
"In the case of the Speaker, the C-6 Highway passes through his district. He did not have a hand in the preparation of the plan for C-6 that will benefit the whole Metro Manila and even the whole country.
That is not a local project," he added.
Villafuerte defended Cayetano by saying that the allocation of the budget for infrastructure projects is done by the Executive Department.
"Cayetano or any other congressman did not have a hand in preparing the budget proposal," he said.
Villafuerte earlier branded Teves's claims as a "sinister ploy" hatched by Velasco supporters to delay the passage of the national budget.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon on Monday raised fears that the power struggle in the House and the bickering among congressmen supposedly over infrastructure funds could derail the passage of the P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021 and the country’s recovery from the pandemic.
Speaking in an interview over ABS-CBN- ANC, Drilon said a power struggle could affect their timelines for the budget.
“I hope not because we are still in the middle of a pandemic and we have about 10 percent unemployment,” Drilon said.
He underscored that the 2021 national budget seeks to address the pandemic, unemployment and the imminent economic contraction that is projected to be 6 percent to 9 percent by the end of 2020.
Drilon recalled how a power struggle and bickering over infrastructure funds in 2018 delayed the passage of the 2019 national budget for over four months, which the economic managers blamed for the economic slowdown.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said the bickering over allocations was “ugly.”
“This early, we are already seeing the ugly effects of pork,” Lacson said.
Lacson noted that when statesmanship goes out the window, so does the public’s respect for Congress as an institution.
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