"Velasco’s fatal mistake was to keep quiet in the last 15 months."
What should be the focus of the House of Representatives in the days ahead?
Clearly, it should be the approval of the proposed 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA), which is an urgent need for the Duterte administration to surmount the prolonged health crisis and the resulting economic downturn from the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque Jr., that’s the directive of the President himself: “His instruction is to have the budget passed as soon as possible because it incorporates our response to COVID-19. We cannot have a reenacted budget for next year since there was no COVID-19 yet last year,” he said in Filipino.
The administration’s economic team also wants legislators to give the 2021 budget the primary attention it deserves.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III has repeatedly said that the 2021 budget is crucial to the recovery of the pandemic-stricken economy.
There is no Plan B, he emphasized. In case of a delay in the passage of the budget, the only option is to operate on a reenacted budget, which Dominguez said will certainly delay our economic recovery and the return to normalcy that will allow the workforce to recover income levels before the pandemic.
The passage of the 2021 national budget is the more urgent concern than the speakership row.
With 184 members of the House out of 300 already casting their vote for the retention of Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano as Speaker, the prudent thing to do is to move forward and concentrate on passing legislation that benefits the nation and our people amid the pandemic.
Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco and his supporters should accept the decision of the majority to keep Cayetano at the helm of the House until 2022.
For one thing, President Duterte himself has already distanced himself from the issue.
What did Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. disclose the day after the Sept. 30 House vote that repudiated the term-sharing agreement of 2019?
The President, he said, told him: “Stay out tayo diyan,” which could only mean that Duterte respects the decision of lawmakers to keep Cayetano as House Speaker.
“That’s a purely internal affair of the House of Representatives. He’s leaving it to the House membership to decide who their leader should be,” Roque pointed out.
Given this, Velasco should now give way and work with Cayetano in crafting legislation that would further enhance the positive image of the House since the second half of last year.
According to the fourth-quarter 2019 survey by the Social Weather Stations (SWS), 63 percent of Filipinos were satisfied and only 12 percent dissatisfied with the House performance. This is a net satisfaction rating of 51 percent, a marked improvement in the chamber’s poll ratings that fell to as low as negative 9 percent in the past three decades.
What Velasco should do now that his colleagues have spoken is to prove that he has what it takes to become a future leader of the House.
Velasco’s fatal mistake was to keep quiet in the last 15 months and to simply wait for his turn as Speaker based on the term-sharing deal brokered by Duterte himself last year.
Cayetano even offered him the position of Deputy Speaker so he could prove his mettle as a lawmaker, but he declined the offer.
The House, after all, is composed of 300 members coming from all over the country with divergent experiences, competencies and interests. The Speaker must be willing to listen to everyone, including the opposition, so that lawmaking as well as investigations in aid of legislation can proceed smoothly.
Velasco should have spent the last 15 months to demonstrate that he really deserves to lead the chamber through dint of hard work and striving to build unity with various political forces to make up for his rather limited experience in public office.
Velasco should have taken an active role in deliberations on two crucial measures against COVID-19: the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act and its sequel, the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2. But he did not. That proved to be his undoing as it showed lack of empathy for the suffering of Filipinos amid the pandemic that has already exacted a heavy toll on people’s health as well as on the national economy as a whole.
If Velasco wants to earn the trust and confidence of the House as a future Speaker, perhaps he can start with helping Cayetano and other House members pass the 2021 national budget and other urgent but pending pieces of legislation aimed at ensuring political stability, economic development and social progress.
Or is that too much to ask?