Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur 2nd district Rep. LRay Villafuerte is insinuating that the six-member Makabayan Bloc is simply in it for the “exposure” and “media mileage” when it comes asking for the resumption of the plenary debates on the proposed national budget for 2021.
In a virtual press conference Wednesday, Villafuerte was asked for his comment on the militant lawmakers’ supposed request for the return of the plenary deliberations on the budget bill after it was abruptly terminated by the House leadership the previous day.
“Eto ang tanong ko, ano ba ang gusto nila? Dalawang bagay: to make amendments, to make proposals; or just to be seen by the public? (Here’s my question, what do they want? Two things: to make amendments, to make proposals; or just to be seen by the public?)” Villafuerte said.
“Kasi kami, sabi ni Speaker (Cayetano) from now until November 5, we are open to amendments, di ba? (As for us, Speaker Cayetano said that from now until November 5, we are open to amendments, right?)” he noted.
The Bicolano was referring to the “small committee” that the House leadership formed following the passage of House Bill (HB) No.7727 on second reading. The passage of the bill, which proposes a P4.506-trillion fiscal plan for next year, took place right after the termination of plenary deliberations.
Villafuerte, being the deputy speaker for finance, was made part of this committee, the main task of which is to collate the suggested amendments of congressmen to HB No.7727.
“Kaya nga may committee eh. Eh I suggest i-submit na lang nila (That’s why there’s committee. I suggest that they just submit their amendments). So do they want results by submitting this in writing in a documented form, or do they just want the media mileage?” Villafuerte asked before adding, “With all due respect.”
“We want results so if they want results and they want their concerns to be heard, I think it’s better to put it in writing at this point and submit it to the small committee,” he further said.
The budget debate phase is among the most tedious aspects of the budget approval process. During these marathon sessions, the proposed fund allocations of the different agencies are defended by solon-sponsors (usually the chairman or vice chairmen of the Appropriations Committee) one by one from their colleagues who might have issues with these allotments.
Theoretically, any solon not listed as a sponsor can raise questions or interpellate an agency budget. There are 299 sitting members in the House of Representatives.
Bayan Muna Party-List Reps. Carlos Zarate, Ferdinand Gaite, Eugenia Cullamat; Gabriela Party-List Rep. Arlene Brosas; ACT Teachers Party-List Rep. France Castro; and Kabataan Party-List Rep. Sarah Elago comprise the Makabayan, which for the most part has been critical of the Duterte administration.
They were the most active group in the plenary debates. They earlier criticized the decision to cut the proceedings short as well as the “railroading” of the budget.
The Makabayan Bloc currently belongs to the broader House Minority Bloc, which by tradition is given “top-billing” or first crack at interpellating a department’s proposed budget. This is true even at the committee-level hearings, and is seen as an act of courtesy to the smaller faction in the chamber.
Manila 6th district Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr. heads the 25-member Minority. Some say that plenary deliberation is the heart of the House’s cherished “power of the purse.”