President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday called for a special session of Congress from Oct. 13 to 16 to ensure the timely passage of next year’s proposed P4.5-trillion national budget.
The President also certified as urgent the budget measure, allowing lawmakers to skip the three-day rule and pass the measure on third reading immediately after it is passed on second reading.
In a proclamation, the President called on Congress to resume deliberations on the national budget and to avoid any further delays in its passage.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, who had earlier suspended the session until Nov. 16 to avoid having to step down as part of a term-sharing agreement he signed in 2019, said he welcomed the President’s call for a special session, saying this would give Congress the chance to resume deliberations on the budget.
“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.
The proclamation was issued a day after the President told members of Congress to resolve the leadership issues that have been threatening to delay the budget.
“If you do not solve the problem then I will solve the problem for you,” he said.
Cayetano said between now and Oct. 13, Congress will “continue to work and prepare for the swift passage of this measure, and to ensure that it will be responsive and relevant to the government’s overall recovery efforts for 2021.”
Speaker in waiting Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco supported the President’s call for a special session.
“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. President Duterte’s marching orders to Speaker Cayetano is clear: reopen Congress to its members,” Velasco said.
House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez said Congress will immediately act next week on the call of the President.
“We appeal to our colleagues to give their full cooperation in ensuring the swift enactment of a legal and constitutional General Appropriations Bill (GAB) as requested by President Duterte to support his vision for the nation in the years to come,” Romualdez said.
“The members of the super majority and our colleagues from the constructive minority bloc are one with the Duterte administration in the implementation of its comprehensive plan to rebuild the Philippine economy, defeat COVID-19 and ensure that government services are not derailed,” Romualdez added.
Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, chairman of the House ways and means committee, said a re-enacted budget due to delays in the passage of the general appropriations bill for 2021 would compromise the country’s pandemic response and recovery efforts.
A reenacted budget, he added, cannot be realigned, especially with the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, which provides special powers to realign government funds to directly address the health crisis, which is set to expire by the end of the year.
He said the President’s call for a special session clearly showed he did not want the budget to be delayed.
“The President has made it clear that he will do what is necessary to get the budget enacted on time. All parties concerned are aware of the grave economic consequences that a budget delay will cause our recovering economy,” he said.
Also on Friday, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Salvador Leachon said resuming the House session even without the consent of Cayetano, was above-board and possible.
Cayetano had earlier moved to approve on second reading the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021 and subsequently adjourned the session until Nov. 16 — which would miss congressional commitments to approve the national spending plan on third and final reading by Oct. 14.
A group of lawmakers, however, opposed the suspension of session and called for its resumption to allow for further deliberation on the budget.