Budget funds must be ready on first day of 2021

Published October 14, 2020, 4:10 PM

by Manila Bulletin

We should have the national appropriation bill approved by the House of Representatives before Friday when the Special Session of the House of Representatives ends.

The House finally settled all issues related to the speakership last Tuesday on the first day of the Special Session called by President Duterte, who had feared that the 2021 budget would be held up, like the 2020 budget was last year.

The Senate is waiting for the bill as approved by the House. It will have plenty of time to approve its own budget bill so the consolidated bill will be approved by Congress, and signed by the President in December.

These last few weeks have been a difficult period in the life of the House of Representatives, torn by the two rival groups of congressmen led by Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano and Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco.

Fifteen months ago, President Duterte had been asked to mediate and he came up with a compromise proposal for Cayetano to serve as speaker in the first 15 months, and then Velasco in the next 21 months. As the date for the transfer of authority — October 14 – neared, however, it seemed Cayetano would hold on to the speakership, claiming the support of a big majority. Velasco, however, was elected new speaker by 186 congressmen meeting at the Celebrity Sports Plaza near the Batasan last Monday.

For a while, there were fears that Cayetano would not recognize the 186 congressmen’s decision, a definite majority in the 304-member House. On Tuesday, however, Cayetano yielded. Although questioning the legality of Monday’s election, he resigned as speaker and the House made everything official. By 3 p.m., the House, with new Speaker Velasco, was already discussing the various sections of the 2021 national appropriation bill.

Late Tuesday afternoon, there were still biting comments from the principal characters in the drama, with Cayetano questioning the “palabra de honor” – the word of honor – of some congressmen who had changed their minds and joined Velasco. Velasco raised the same issue of “palabra de honor” in questioning Cayetano’s seeming refusal to yield the speakership despite the compromise agreement drawn up by President Duterte 15 months ago.

All that pugnacious disputation, we hope, is over. There should be no further delay on the budget bill so that the government can start carrying out the many projects it plans in its pandemic recovery program right on the first day of the year.