House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano’s allies suspended Monday’s session to give their leader a chance to buy time and avert plans for his ouster.
Telephones burned all day at the Batasang Pambansa despite Cayetano, his rival for the speakership Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco and President’s son Davao City Paolo Duterte not making their presence felt in the Chamber.
The two budget hearings set yesterday — those for the Commission on Elections and the Department of Foreign Affairs — were suspended.
A break of one day would allow Cayetano the precious hours to regroup his forces, which threatened of collapse until Monday when the majority squabbled over funds inserted into the 2021 national budget.
Even members of the House staff were kept off the session. Video and audio monitors were put off to keep talks within the session hall just among the lawmakers present.
Cayetano’s camp tried to downplay the calls to declare the speakership vacant, aired by Duterte over the weekend, by saying the incumbent speaker would still retain his post if subjected to another vote.
Other lawmakers, however, said it’s unlikely.
Cayetano is being questioned for cornering about P20-billion worth of projects from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for himself, his wife Lani and his closest allies.
The other congressmen, however, will receive only P2 billion or less for projects in their districts.
Taguig City alone will receive P6,918,662,000 to fund rehabilitation of roads, highway extensions, construction of pumping station and flood control structure, slope protection, site developments, buildings, parking areas and multi-purpose buildings.
All these projects are to be distributed in the city’s two congressional districts which Cayetano splits with his wife.
Camarines Sur’s first district, with Cayetano as caretaker after the demise of its elected representative Marissa Lourdes Andaya, will receive P288,244,000.
His ally LRay Villafuerte’s second district will get P3,304,781,000.
But some congressmen claimed they have more.
These complaints sent the House crumbling before the weekend with the Mindanao bloc threatening to force a new leadership.
Cayetano’s camp then moved to revive the budget for the grumbling lawmakers, using the Bayanihan 2 funds which are supposed to alleviate the people’s fight against the new coronavirus pandemic.
These will be used for the congressmen’s soft projects through the Local Government Subsidy Fund (LGSF), which include funding for scholarships, medical assistance, livelihood training and similar light projects.
Villafuerte had sent the congressmen messages to announce that they will get their share from the Bayanihan 2 funds.
“Your allocated LGSF for 2020 which were missing are back,” a message attributed to Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte stated.
“We reinstated them as per instruction of the Speaker in Bayanihan 2,” he added.
“Here with guidelines please. Favor, kindly as you LGU (local government units) beneficiaries (through) Katy to comply ASAP because deadline is end of October,” his message continued, mentioning a name whom Tribune sources identified as a media liaison.
Cayetano said he will step down if asked by his peers.
“I advised them, if there are lawmakers who want to move, let them be. I will voluntarily step down,” Cayetano stated.
While Duterte vowed to distance from the inequitable distribution of the budget, he said he will respect the decision of the House members.
“Most of these concerns shrouded doubts over the process and mistrust of the lawmakers ruling the House, those who are acting as if they are bigger than their colleagues,” he stated.
“Now as Congress continues to be hounded by the issue of budget — something that finds its way up to the current House leadership, how it treats its members, how it approves allocations and budgets with fairness or lack of it — let me reiterate my position: I do not want to get involved. However, I wish to help my fellow lawmakers find answers to their questions or remedies to the budget that they proposed for their people.”
“I could only hope that Congress and its members will be able to resolve this issue before everything goes out of hand, before it could bludgeon the credibility of the institutions and inflict damage beyond repair.”
“I leave this issue to the members of Congress as I believe that it is within their rights as elected officials to come up with a favorable solution to an issue that could badly impact the development of their districts and their people.”
“As a collective body, the members of Congress have the power to change the course of which the leadership is leading them to and address a problem to ensure that the programs and projects for their people are delivered and delivered expeditiously.”
“The members of Congress have the power to correct everything that they perceive as wrong happening within the Lower House or change leadership as they demand fair treatment and reforms.”
“If the members of Congress will push for a change in House leadership, as a reaction to their sentiments, obviously I would be among the casualties because I am a deputy speaker. I am ready to accept the consequences,” he added.
Meanwhile, presidential spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque said the Chief Executive cannot meddle in the affairs of the Lower Chamber, even if his son moves to oust Cayetano.
“The Constitution is clear. Only the members of the House of Representatives can decide who would be their leader. We leave (the matter) to the House of Representatives,” Roque said.
The Palace official, however, said the P4.5-trillion national budget for next year should be passed “on time” despite the ongoing disputes in the Congress.
“Let’s just say that because the 2021 budget is also our biggest stimulus package, it is non-negotiable to the President. It needs to be passed on time,” Roque said.
In 2019, President Duterte brokered a term-sharing deal between Cayetano and Velasco to put an end to the speakership deadlock which bugged the House for months.
Duterte publicly endorsed Cayetano to be the House Speaker for the first 15 months of the 18th Congress, while Velasco will sit in the remaining 21 months.
with HANANEEL BORDEY,
and MJ BLANCAFLOR