House has nation’s full attention today

Published October 13, 2020, 11:26 AM

by Manila Bulletin

Today, Tuesday, October 13, the Congress of the Philippines has been called into special session by President Duterte with one express purpose – to approve the National Appropriation Bill for 2021.

The President took this unprecedented step of calling for a special session at this time of the year because the House suddenly decided to adjourn until next month — November 16 – without approving the budget bill on October 14 as scheduled, so the Senate would have time to study it, propose its own amendments, and approve it by December. It could be signed into law by the President by December and go into effect on the very first day of the new year.

The 2021 national budget contains amounts needed for the national recovery plan drawn up for the ongoing pandemic. Without the new budget, the previous year’s budget would have to be reenacted and it does not have the recovery programs drawn up by the government.

All this planning, however, was suddenly thrown out by the House when it suddenly and unexpectedly adjourned last October 6. It did approve the budget bill on first and second reading. But the House still has to approve the bill on third and final reading when individual congressmen rise to declare their vote and the House in plenary session formally declares the bill approved.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said in adjourning Congress last October 6 that the national budget bill had been approved, and therefore he could not be accused of holding the bill hostage in the efforts of his group to remain in power, instead of yielding the speakership to Rep. Lord Allan Velasco under a compromise agreement drawn up by President Duterte 15 months ago.
But the bill has yet to go through the complete process of approval. That could happen today. Or the whole thing might remain undecided in the wake of yesterday’s new development on the speakership issue.

Yesterday, 186 of the House’s 304 members met at the Celebrity Sports Plaza in Broadcast City, near the Batasan in Quezon City, complete with the House mace, flag, rostrum, and staff, and voted to declare the position of speaker vacant and elected Velasco to be the new speaker. Velasco immediately took his oath before the local barangay chairman.

Today, the House will gather at its regular meeting place for the special session called by President Duterte so it can approve the appropriation bill on third and final reading.

The events yesterday, however, cast a big question mark over today’s proceedings. We can only hope that the speakership issue – specifically yesterday’s events – will not condemn the national budget to further uncertainty.