Malacañang is confident that the House of Representatives can pass the General Appropriations Bill (GAB), which contains the proposed PHP4.5 trillion national budget of 2021, by Friday.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made this remark after the House, led by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, reopened debates on the proposed 2021 budget bill on Tuesday.
Roque, a former lawmaker, acknowledged that reopening debates will result in more discussions, but noted that this would not delay the passage of the GAB as long as discussions are concluded by Friday.
Last week, President Rodrigo Duterte called for a special session of Congress from Oct. 13 to 16 to resume congressional deliberations on the proposed 2021 national budget.
“I’m confident though, that Speaker Velasco, as he promised the President, can pass it on the 16th,” Roque said in an interview on CNN Philippines’ The Source on Wednesday.
He said the President is counting on debates to run smoothly now that the speakership row between Velasco and Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano has been resolved.
“We have a supermajority in the House so I don’t see any problems anymore. Now that there’s no more political maneuverings and bickerings, I think the process can proceed,” he added.
According to Roque, the House needed to pass the third and final reading of the GAB on Friday so the Senate can commence their plenary session.
“The Senate is already deliberating on the budget but on a committee level. They cannot proceed to have a plenary discussion without receipt of the budget approved on third and final reading by the House,” he said.
Should the House fail to pass the GAB by Friday, Roque said the President may call for another week of special sessions.
“If he’s [Velasco] not able to [pass the GAB], then the suggestion made by some senators is to call for special [sessions] in November because there’s going to be another recess in November. That would be the opportunity for Congress to finish it,” he said.
“But it’s absolutely indispensable of course that it is signed within the month of December and published in the Official Gazette and in two newspapers of general circulation so that it can be effective the first of January,” he added.
In a meeting with the President on Tuesday, Velasco and Cayetano vowed to “work together” as one majority to ensure the timely passage of the proposed 2021 national budget.
The meeting took place after the House ratified Velasco’s speakership election in Tuesday’s session, essentially ousting Cayetano from his post.
Roque said Duterte was “very appreciative” that budget debates could resume without disruptions.
“The President, of course, was very appreciative of both parties and he appreciated the fact that Congress is now focusing on the budget because that has been his call from the very beginning to pass the 2021 budget,” he said.
He also bared that Cayetano apologized for “misunderstanding” Duterte’s intention that the term-sharing agreement between him and Velasco would be effective after the passage of the proposed 2021 national budget.
It was Duterte who brokered a term-sharing agreement in 2019 where Cayetano would serve as the Speaker until October 2020 while Velasco would take over and assume the position until the 18th Congress ends in 2022.
Roque, meanwhile, warned that a reenacted budget would spell “disaster” for the government’s coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) response.
“A reenacted budget would be a disaster of sorts because there was no Covid when the 2020 budget was deliberated on and passed as law. The reenacted budget would not have any provision for Covid-19 response,” he said. (PNA)