Allies of Speaker Lord Allan Velasco have started circling the wagon as congressmen allied with former Speaker and Taguig Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano went on an offensive using the controversy over the P20-billion budget slash of the pension and gratuity fund for retired military and police pesonnel.
Reacting to accusations hurled by Anakalusugan Partylist Rep. Michael T. Defensor, Deputy Speaker Bernadette Herrera and ACT-CIS Partylist Rep. Eric Go-Yap said the charges of irregularities in the passage of the 2021 General Appropriations Act are baseless.
Reacting to Defensor’s jab against Velasco, Herrera assured that Velasco remained approachable.
Defensor delivered a privilege speech on Monday, March 1 where he chided the speaker for allegedly reducing the pension fund by P20 billion and re-aligning the amount to increase “pork barrel funds” for legislators.
In his speech, Defensor hinted that Velasco had become unapproachable with regards to his concerns.
Identified with the Cayetano faction, Defensor was the last among allies of the former speaker to be sacked by Velasco from handling key positions in the chamber.
Defensor assailed Velasco’s surprise move, noting that he was removed as chairman of the House Committee on Public Accounts without the speaker informing him of the decision.
“I would like to assure our Congressman Mike Defensor that the office of the Speaker is open to each and every member of Congress,” said Herrera.
She assured Defensor that there is no longer any need for Defensor to queue for a chance to gain entry to Velasco’s office and talk to him.
Reacting to Defensor’s accusation on the P20-billion deduction form the Pension and Gratuity Fund (PGF), Yap denied there were irregularities in the passage of the 2021 budget, pointing out that it was deliberated upon by both the House and the Senate, with consultation with the Executive Branch, particularly the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
“Although Speaker Velasco has empowered me and given me his full confidence in crafting the 2021 GAA, he did give me clear instruction to make sure that the 2021 budget would help the Executive in addressing the many problems the country is facing because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the ACT-CIS Party-list Representative said.
Yap explained that the P20 billion was in fact a buffer fund, which the DBM, the House and the Senate all agreed to realign in favor of budget items meant to address the COVID-19 pandemic including the procurement of vaccines and personal protective equipment of medical frontliners.
“The PGF was slashed by the previous House leadership by P70-billion,” Yap said. “I was puzzled then as to why that was, considering that there was no pandemic yet at that time.”
Interpellating Defensor via zoom communications, Deputy Speaker Isidro Ungab, who chaired the Committee on Appropriations during Cayetano’s term as Speaker, also manifested on Monday that the 2020 national budget had several realignments.
In fact, Ungab said, Cayetano and former Deputy Speaker LRAy Villafuerte deducted a total P209-billion from various budget allocations, including P74.029 billion from the PGF.