Duterte calls for special session of Congress, certifies 2021 budget as urgent

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 9) — President Rodrigo Duterte has called for a special session of Congress to resume deliberations on the proposed 2021 budget, which he has certified urgent amid uncertainties on timely passage.

The special session is set for Oct. 13 to 16, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement on Friday.

This is “to resume the congressional deliberations on the proposed 2021 national budget and to avoid any further delays on its prompt passage,” Roque said.

He also said the President marked as urgent the General Appropriations Bill, which proposes a ₱4.5-trillion national budget for next year. It includes funds for pandemic response and recovery, including subsidies to ailing industries and vaccine purchases.

On Tuesday, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano abruptly moved to pass the bill on second reading and suspend session until Nov. 16. This move is seen to prevent Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco from taking the top post on Oct. 16 despite the term-sharing deal brokered by the President in 2019.

A number of lawmakers raised concerns that these alleged political maneuverings will lead to a reenacted budget, which means the country will run using the financial plan for the previous year. This is prevented by the President’s call for a special session, Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III said.

“As long as both houses toe the line especially during the Bicam, no reenacted budget,” Sotto said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III told senators during Friday’s budget hearing that the department cannot afford to have a reenacted budget because this will definitely hit the country’s COVID-19 response. An increase in the department’s budget is vital to address the pandemic, he noted.

In a Facebook post right after Malacanang’s unexpected announcement, Cayetano welcomed Duterte’s move and committed to work for the swift approval of 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.

Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said there's no stopping the House of Representatives from reconvening since the President has already called for it. He believes the speakership tussle will take a backseat as Cayetano presides next week’s session.

“I don’t think there will be any move to unseat him during that time because the President's wish is to have [the budget] approved,” Salceda told CNN Philippines’ News Night.

Velasco, for his part, took a swipe at Cayetano’s earlier motion to create a small committee that will consolidate the amendments to be presented for third reading.

“The attendance of all lawmakers will enable them to meaningfully participate in the entire budget process and preparation, just like what the President wants, and not just to a small committee of hand-picked friends,” Velasco said in a statement.

He has been pushing for the resumption of budget deliberations, which he said was "unceremoniously" terminated, along with the "highly questionable" early suspension of session.

House Minority Leader Benny Abante called on his colleagues to set aside politics and focus on passing the budget.

Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza, on the other hand, welcomed the call of Duterte and said that the resumption of the session would mean more transparency in the national budget.

“Ngayon magkakaroon ulit ng transparency, because itutuloy natin ulit yung interpellation, at kukumpletuhin yung hindi pa natatanong na halos 14 na departments,” he told CNN Philippines.

[Translation: We will have transparency again, because we will continue the interpellations and we will discuss the budget of 14 more departments.]

Duterte addressed the budget mess in an unscheduled public speech Thursday night, repeatedly telling squabbling factions in Congress to resolve the issue immediately or else he would take action.