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Shuffle unsettles House peace

Still, solons push forward debates on budget, set its approval by Friday

The House of Representatives pushed through with a leadership shuffle on Wednesday as it installed allies of new Speaker Lord Allan Jay Velasco in key positions, while it moved forward with deliberations to pass the 2021 national budget by Friday as hoped for by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Shuffle unsettles House peace
(First Row; from left to right) OUT: Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte, Cavite Rep. Abraham Tolentino, and Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro.
(Second Row; from left to right) IN: Oriental Mindoro Rep. Salvador Leachon, Quezon Rep. 
Angelina “Helen” Tan, 1-PACMAN Rep. Michael Romero, Ilocos Sur Rep.  Kristine Singson-Meehan, and Davao City Rep. 
Paolo Duterte.
The erstwhile Speaker, Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano, on Wednesday reacted by reminding Velasco of his “palabra de honor” (word of honor) when he said they agreed there would be no changes in the House leadership and committee chairmanships.

“I am just asking Congressman Velasco, [who] will be our new Speaker, na sabi mo sa akin palabra de honor, then palabra de honor din sa side nyo. Dahil malinaw na sinabi ng ating Pangulo na he doesn’t want disruption so walang palitan ng kahit sinong chairmanship at leadership sa Kongreso,” he said in a social media post.

Meanwhile, lawmakers ended plenary debates on the proposed budget next year for the Departments of Public Works and Highways and Agrarian Reform and started debates for the allocation of the Department of Transportation as of press time.

Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte and Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro, staunch allies of Cayetano, were replaced as Deputy Speakers by 1-PACMAN Party-list Rep. Michael Romero and Oriental Mindoro Rep. Doy Leachon.

Leachon was actually named Senior Deputy Speaker vice Davao City Rep. Paolo Duterte, who was stripped of his post under Cayetano but was appointed chairman of the powerful Committee on Accounts when Velasco assumed the speakership on Tuesday.

As he thanked Cayetano for giving him the opportunity to serve as one of his 22 deputy speakers, Villafuerte said: “If the intention of removing me was to intimidate all those who remain loyal to former Speaker Cayetano, then they have miscalculated badly.”

“Their vindictiveness merely shows that we were right all along, and exposes the kind of “leadership” we can expect,” he added, referring to Velasco’s allies.

Nevertheless, Villafuerte said, “the House needs to be united, and I am all for that.”

Meanwhile, Quezon 4th District Rep. Angelina Helen Tan regained the chair of the the House Committee on Health vice Guimaras Rep. Ma. Lucille Nava, while solons also elected Ilocos Sur 2nd District Rep. Kristine Singson-Meehan as Vice Chair of the House Committee on Accounts.

Valenzuela Rep. Eric Martinez was also restored as chairman of the Youth and Sports Development committee. He said House panel leaders should not fear removal from their positions if they share Velasco’s vision.

The Palace expects Congress to pass the 2021 national budget on time because it has a supermajority in the House, which resumed deliberations on the spending plan this week after resolving its leadership impasse.

“I don’t see any problems anymore and now that there are no more political maneuverings and bickering, I think the process can proceed,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in an interview on CNN Philippines.

While the reopening of the budget deliberations would result in more discussions, Roque said this was fine as long as they are concluded within the period set by the President for the special session.

“So, for as long as they are able to pass the budget, despite having reopened debates on it, then that would be still no problem. All that is needed is for the proposed law to be passed on third and final reading on the 16th, so that the Senate can commence their plenary discussion,” Roque said.

He also expressed his confidence in newly elected Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, who replaced Taguig Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano in an acrimonious transfer of power.

Velasco and Cayetano had agreed to a term-sharing arrangement brokered by President Rodrigo Duterte in 2019, but the latter sought to delay the turnover of the speakership when his time was up. A majority of House members, however, elected Velasco speaker on Monday, effectively ousting Cayetano.

Roque said the President could also call a special session in November if necessary to give Congress more time to finish the budget.

The budget must be signed by December and published in the Official Gazette and two newspapers of general circulation to be effective Jan. 1, 2021.

Two legislators on Wednesday pushed for a P1 billion budget increase for the Office of the Vice President (OVP) so the agency can effectively implement its programs amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reps. Gabriel Bordado of Camarines Sur and Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan De Oro City made the proposal during the plenary deliberations on the proposed 2021 budget of the OVP, which chalked up having the highest audit rating from the Commission on Audit for two consecutive years.

“So I am requesting the leadership of the House to do something not only to restore the budget of the OVP, we should increase the budget of the Office of the Vice President to at least P1 billion so that it can continue implementing all its programs and projects whose objective is to uplift the lives of the marginalized Filipinos,” Bordado said.

Rodriguez said the a budget increase for the OVP “will boost its programs for livelihood, the marginalized sector, and for frontliners amid the fight against COVID-19.”

“With that, I would join and second the motion to increase the budget to at least P1 billion for the honorable Vice President,” he said.

Northern Samar Rep. Paul Daza sponsored the budget of the OVP, which proposed a P679.7-million spending plan. Vice President Leni Robredo was present during the OVP budget deliberations in plenary session Wednesday.

Despite statements to the contrary by Velasco, Roque maintained that the President had no role in Velasco’s election.

“This was a decision of the members of the House of Representatives on a purely internal matter,” he saod. “I think message was received by everyone that the President needed the early passage of the proposed 2021 budget.”

Under new leadership, the House committed to pass the budget on third and final reading by Friday, Oct. 16.

“We will try our best to finish by Friday in accordance with the special session called by President Duterte for the passage of the 2021 spending bill,” party-list Rep. Micahel Romero said.

He said lawmakers could also meet during the recess to fine-tune the budget before it is submitted to the Senate by the third week of October.

With the political fireworks over, the House reopened budget deliberations Tuesday by retracting its approval on second reading.

On Oct. 6, Cayetano suspended the session until Nov. 16 in an attempt to prevent Velasco from taking over as speaker.

Among the agencies whose budgets were not taken up last week were the departments of Social Welfare and Development, Agrarian Reform, Transportation, Education, Tourism, Health, Foreign Affairs, And Public Works And Highways.

Romero, a Velasco supporter, had been stripped of his deputy speaker post when Cayetano was still speaker.

“We are back. The House of Representatives is back to work and as of today, we are one solid and unified Congress and we expect to give our help to the Filipino people,” said Romero.

Rep. Florida Robes of San Jose Del Monte City in Bulacan said lawmakers “look forward to a renewed, more united and inclusive leadership at the House of Representatives led by Speaker Velasco with Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez.”

“I am extremely delighted that the leadership impasse in the House of Representatives had been resolved peacefully and amicably by our two honorable leaders, Lord Alan Velasco and former Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano,” Robes said.

“I believe that Speaker Velasco and Majority Leader Romualdez are both righteous and committed to steer the House of Representatives to new heights to become a more effective and responsive institution to serve the Filipino people especially in these trying times,” she added.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he was ready to meet with Velasco, who called him Tuesday night.

“No protocol necessary but we agreed to meet soon to discuss legislative matters,” Sotto said.

Sotto said the meeting would probably take place after Friday.

The Senate leader said he and Velasco agreed to further strengthen the relationship of both Houses.

Earlier Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor, chairman of the House committee on public accounts, said the OVP budget was not as small as Robredo’s supporters claimed.

“Let’s set the record straight in fairness to President Duterte, who proposed the P4.5-trillion national budget for next year. The P679.7 million he recommended for the OVP is not the tiniest allocation in the bureaucracy as was made to appear,” Defensor said.

He said other important agencies of the government are getting just a small fraction of the funds allocated to the OVP.

‘“For instance, P85.2 million is budgeted for the Anti-Money Laundering Council, P146 million for the Anti-Red Tape Authority, P344.5 million for the Dangerous Drugs Board, and P172.3 million for the Commission on Filipinos Overseas. Maybe, we should increase the budget for the AMLC so it could catch money launderers,” he said.

Topics: House of Representatives , Lord Allan Jay Velasco , leadership shuffle , Alan Peter Cayetano
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