Is Duterte’s call for special session a sign of trust in, or rebuke of Cayetano?

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano sees Malacanang’s decision to call for a special session next week as a demonstration of President Duterte’s “continued confidence” in the Lower House.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano (MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

In a statement Friday night, Cayetano welcomed the presidential proclamation for a special session of Congress on October 13 to 16, which under the Congress calendar, are days when it is supposed to be holding regular sessions.

Independent minority Rep. Edcel Lagman, however, considered the presidential proclamation as a “rebuke” of Cayetano for his precipitate termination of the budget debates.

Aside from the presidential proclamation, Duterte certified House Bill 7727 or the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) an urgent administration measure to further guarantee that the budget will be passed on time.

Duterte made the twin moves after going on national television to voice out his concern over the delay in the budget deliberations and the constitutional issues that might be raised against the suspension of sessions that could further delay the approval of the budget bill.

In the unscheduled public address Thursday night, President Duterte said the Lower House should fix their problem soon or he will do it for them himself.

“I'm just appealing to you. Gusto ko lang sabihin in one straight statement: Either you resolve the issue sa impasse ninyo diyan (about your impasse) and pass the budget legally and constitutionally. 'Pag hindi ninyo ginawa, ako ang gagawa para sa inyo. (If you don't, then I'll do it for you),” he warned on Thursday.

Some House members believe that the call for special session was an apparent bid of Malacañang to undo what the Lower House has done last Tuesday when it abruptly approved on second reading the 2021 national budget and suspend sessions until November 16.

Earlier, Lagman, together with Rep. Lito Atienza (Buhay Partylist), demanded the resumption of session on Monday in order to continue with the budget deliberations.

“We trust his (Duterte’s) wisdom on how to address issues concerning the budget, and thank him for his continued confidence by allowing Congress to pass the General Appropriations Bill free from the specter of politicking and intrigues that we had originally sought to avoid,” said Cayetano.

 “In the meantime, Congress shall continue to work and prepare for the swift passage of this measure, and to ensure that it will be responsive and relevant to the government’s overall recovery efforts for 2021,” he added.

The minority bloc was quick to support Duterte’s moves that will derail plans of opposition solons to conduct parallel deliberations on the budget measure and “fulfill our mandate to thoroughly scrutinize the budget and to properly evaluate the proposed allocations for the government’s various line departments.”

“Our priorities should now be crystal clear; let us set aside politics, eschew the infighting that has plagued the chamber in recent weeks, and focus on the task at hand,” the minority bloc said in a statement.

Meanwhile,  Deputy Minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said the Makabayan bloc is prepared to buckle down “to work again” and scrutinize the 2021 budget.

“Though the abrupt termination of the budget deliberations took away several important days, this resumption should be maximized by the House. It should not be made as another venue or arena of the never ending war of dominance by the protagonists in the speakership battle,” said Zarate.

For his part, Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda said the call for special session clearly directs the Lower House to pass the budget on third reading so that it can be transmitted to the Senate.

“To me, what this move signals is that the President is taking no chances about the budget timeline. He wants it passed without delay, and rightly so, because we cannot afford to delay the most important economic stimulus measure, the 2021 budget,” said Salceda.