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Budget bill triggers House leadership row

By: - Reporter / @deejayapINQ
/ 05:30 AM September 21, 2020

Deputy Speaker Paolo Duterte, the President’s son, has threatened to force a change in leadership of the House of Representatives amid grumblings about partisan and inequitable distribution of funds in the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021.

In a Viber message sent to his colleagues on Saturday, the junior representative from Davao City warned that he would ask the Mindanao bloc to declare the seats of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and 22 deputy speakers vacant during Monday’s session.

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Later, in a statement, Duterte confirmed making the threat, calling it “an expression of my personal dismay upon hearing the concerns of my fellow lawmakers.”

But he added that it was up to his colleagues to take action against the House leadership, if they so wished.

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Ready for consequences

“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,” Duterte said.

He said he would leave the decision to his peers, as he was compromised by his blood ties with President Duterte. “Anything that comes out of my actions or mouth could be construed or manipulated as having the blessing of my father,” he said.

The threat was prompted by disgruntled Mindanao lawmakers who were unhappy about their districts’ share in the 2021 budget.

A screenshot of the message obtained by the Inquirer showed Duterte telling his friend, ACT-CIS Rep. Eric Yap, the House appropriations panel chair, in Filipino: “I had warned you, I was just keeping quiet because the Speaker was no longer talking to me. Now, I’ve been dragged into this.”

“I will ask the Mindanao bloc to declare the seat of the Speaker and Deputy Speakers vacant [on] Monday. Mindanao will not die just because it has no budget!—my message to Cong. Eric Yap.”

The screenshot was provided to the Inquirer by a veteran House lawmaker who received the message in a group chat on Saturday.

The Inquirer source said many House members were frustrated with the conduct of the budget briefings and the lack of transparency in a number of discretionary lump-sum items, which critics had derided as “pork.”

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No transparency

“There was no transparency in some budget items. Lump-sum appropriations should be broken down per expenditures item, per region, per district,” he said.

The lawmaker said it was also obvious there was favoritism in the amounts earmarked for individual districts.

“It’s very glaring that congressmen close to the House leadership are getting the lion’s share of the budget pie,” Duterte said.

The matter was compounded by uncertainty over whether the planned turnover of the House leadership from Cayetano to Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, with whom the Speaker has a term-sharing deal, would still take place.

Under the “15-21 deal,” the Taguig lawmaker is supposed to serve as Speaker for only 15 months while the Marinduque congressman will take over for the remaining 21 months. The turnover is supposed to take place in October or early November.

But the two camps are now feuding over the 2021 budget, and the disagreements are likely to erupt in another nasty battle for the speakership.

On Saturday, the Inquirer reported that the President made a comment about pitying Velasco during his meeting with Cayetano in Malacañang and that the remark was interpreted by Cayetano as an endorsement of his plan to drop his “gentleman’s agreement” with Velasco.

Last week, allies of Cayetano and Velasco traded barbs and insults over questionable public works allocations in the 2021 budget, allegedly favoring the districts of House leaders, among them Cayetano and Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr.

Taguig, Camarines get more

Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. questioned why Taguig City and Camarines Sur province, the home districts of Cayetano and Villafuerte, were receiving upward of P8 billion and P11 billion, respectively, much bigger than his own district’s P2 billion.

Villafuerte then accused Teves of being a lackey of former Negros Occidental Rep. Albee Benitez, who was supposedly backing Velasco as the next Speaker.

As of Sunday, it wasn’t clear whether the plan to declare the House seats vacant would proceed.

“I have no idea if the numbers can be attained, but if it comes from DS Duterte, it can cause a groundswell,” the lawmaker who spoke to the Inquirer said.

Not confirmed

Yap also would not confirm if Duterte still planned to make good his threat.

“It’s hard to comment. All I can say is it’s not confirmed because [Duterte and I] have not talked personally,” the party list lawmaker told the Inquirer by phone.

“What I know is he (Duterte) has nothing to do with the speakership fight. That’s between Lord and Speaker Cayetano,” Yap said.

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TAGS: 2021 national budget, Alan Peter Cayetano, Congress, House of Representatives, House speakership, Paolo Duterte
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