Tension erupted between two lawmakers on Friday at the last day of the budget plenary debate after questions on the budget of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) were deferred.
Majority Floor Leader and Quezon City Sixth District Rep. Christopher Belmonte drew the ire of Abakada Party-list Rep. Jonathan Dela Cruz after the former agreed to suspend the latter’s interpellation of the ARMM’s P16-billion budget.
At the plenary hall, Dela Cruz went to Belmonte and asked, with his voice raised, why was the interpellation terminated even though he already enlisted to question all the agencies’ budget.
“Are you calling me a liar? I was early this morning, I was the first to come here,” Belmonte said in Filipino.
Dela Cruz then slammed his hand on a table with Belmonte on the other side.
In an interview with the media right after the incident, Dela Cruz said that he enlisted right after the budget plenary debate that ended at 1:00 a.m. on Friday.
“I want to take certain issues on all of the agencies, what’s wrong with that?” Dela Cruz asked.
According to the lawmaker, he just wanted to know why P16 billion will be allocated to the ARMM when the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process recognized that ARMM was a ‘failed experiment.’
“Why are we funding a failed experiment? How our colleagues here who are representing provinces in the ARMM look at us now—or look at themselves? You mean to say they’re not doing their jobs? They’re not doing work for the Bangsamoro or for the unity of this country?”
“That’s all I am asking.”
ARMM-Cotabato City Rep. Bai Sandra Sema was the first to present the budget, sponsoring the National Commission on Muslim Filipino budget. House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora immediately moved for the suspension of the interpellation, including the ARMM budget. When the motion was closed, it was when Dela Cruz arrived at the plenary hall.
Gonzales allowed Dela Cruz to file a manifestation during the hearing of the Department of National Defense but did not mention anything about the ARMM budget.
Dela Cruz has conducted a lot of interpellations of numerous agencies since day one of the plenary debate but he denied that he was delaying the passage of the budget.
“You can take a look at the record, you can take a look at my questions, these are all policies and operational questions which are necessary because it is part of the budget,” Dela Cruz told the media.
“I cannot delay the proceedings. If they want to pass it right now, they can pass it actually, they can always outvote us.”
Dela Cruz is a member of the independent minority allied with former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.