President Rodrigo Duterte has called Congress to a special session to avoid further delays in approving the proposed 2021 national budget.
Proclamation 1027, released by Malacañang on Friday, schedules the special session from October 13 to 16.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said Duterte also certified the budget measure or General Appropriations Bill (GAB) as urgent.
A proclamation certifying the measure as urgent will be released soon, Roque said.
On Thursday, the President threatened to step in to break the impasse over the budget created by the bitter fight for the speakership between Speaker Alan Peter Cayeteno and Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco.
On Friday, both Cayetano and Velasco welcomed the President’s call for a special session.
“[W]e welcome President Duterte’s call for a Special Session of Congress… We trust his 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,” Cayetano said in a Facebook post.
Velasco said in a statement he fully supports the President’s call.
“This is what the majority of us in the House of Representatives have been telling Speaker Cayetano and his small group of loyalists since the unceremonious termination of the budget plenary debates and the highly questionable and unconstitutional suspension of session.”
House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez appealed to his colleagues to “give their full cooperation” in ensuring the swift enactment of the budget bill.
“The very transparent process of budget deliberations will always be observed to ensure its legality and constitutionality,” the Leyte lawmaker said.
House Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Jose Maria “Joey” Salceda said a special session would give the House time to approve the GAB on third reading.
“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,” Salceda said.
The minority bloc also supported “any initiative that will fast-track the deliberations and subsequent passage of the 2021 national budget.”
In a statement, the bloc said Duterte’s call for a special session serves to emphasize the importance of passing the budget on time in order for the government to promptly carry out the programs and projects necessary “to address the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on our economy, and to provide aid for our people in these challenging times.”
House Deputy Minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said they were “prepared to buckle down to work again and carefully scrutinize the 2021 budget so that the needed funds to generate jobs, healthcare, agriculture and social aid are prioritized in this time of severe crisis aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic.”
Zarate, however, said the special session must “not be made as another venue or arena of the never ending war of dominance by the protagonists in the speakership battle.”
Last October 6, the House abruptly suspended its session without passing the budget measure on third and final reading.
Cayetano vowed the House would pass the bill on November 16, over a month past October 14, the original date the chamber scheduled the budget approval.
For Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd, the President’s call for a special session just to finish the budget was not necessary.
“Technically it’s the same thing. We are really set to have sessions till the 16 anyway. So, the order of the President puts emphasis on his call for the HoR (House of Representatives) to approve the budget on third reading and give the Senate time to study, review and pass the GAA (General Appropriations Act),” Sotto said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Friday said the President can do whatever is necessary, even take a direct hand in resolving the speakership issue.
“After all, anything that has to do with national interest should involve the President,” Lacson said.
In his prerecorded speech on Thursday, Duterte warned: “Either you resolve the issue sa impasse ‘nyo diyan and pass the budget legally and constitutionally. ‘Pag hindi ninyo ginawa, ako ang gagawa para sa inyo. Hindi ako nananakot (Either you resolve the issue on your impasse and pass the budget legally and constitutionally. If you don’t do that, I will do it for you. I’m not threatening you).
The warning was clearly directed at Cayetano and Velasco, whose continued sparring over the speakership had slowed down deliberations on the budget measure.
Lacson said their priority in the Senate remains the same — to pass on time a national budget that would allow the country to deal with the effects of the pandemic.
Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, said he was hoping that the President’s message would encourage the House to pass the budget on third reading at the earliest opportunity, thus enabling the Senate to begin its plenary debates as well.
Opposition Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan suggested the President call Congress to a special session.
WITH Divina Nova Joy Dela Cruz and JAVIER JOE ISMAEL