House power squabble risks delay in 2021 budget approval


By Charmaine A. Tadalan, Reporter
and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

A BREWING coup at the House of Representatives after some congressmen complained of an inequitable share in the P4.5-trillion national budget for next year threatens to delay the passage of the bill, some lawmakers said. “A power struggle in the House will affect our timeline, and I hope not because we’re still in the middle of the pandemic,” Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon told the ABS-CBN News Channel on Monday. “We have 10% unemployment and we’re expected to have a contraction in our economy, so a delay in the budget would be very critical,” he added.

Presidential Son and House Deputy Speaker Paolo Z. Duterte at the weekend threatened to stage a coup against Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano after some lawmakers complained of inequitable shares for their districts in the 2021 national budget.

Mr. Duterte on Sunday said he had sent a message to a group of lawmakers on Viber that he would ask the Mindanao bloc of congressmen on Monday to declare the positions of speaker and deputy speakers vacant. That threat had not yet materialized.

A similar conflict among congressmen over alleged budget insertions deferred House plenary debates on the 2019 spending plan, delaying its approval by four months.

Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said in a mobile phone message it was possible for the budget to get delayed, because the budget itself was the source of concern.

Senator and Finance committee chairman Juan Edgardo M. Angara said the conflict should not get in the way of the budget, while Senator Panfilo M. Lacson blamed pork barrel insertions for the in-fighting.

“These are internal matters for them to collectively discuss and dispose of,” Mr. Angara said in a mobile phone message. “We just hope that the ability of Congress to pass a budget in a timely manner will not be affected.”

Mr. Lacson earlier flagged 5,913 re-appropriated budget items worth P135 billion, and about P396 billion in lump sum appropriations under the Public Works department that must be clarified.

“This early, we are already seeing the ugly effects of pork,” he said in a statement Monday. “More than the possible delay in the passage of the 2021 national budget, any ugly squabble in plenary over the distribution of earmarks a.k.a. pork is exactly that ugly.”

Party-list Rep. Eric G. Yap, who heads the House committee on appropriations, ruled out delays, saying they were on track with the budget.

The House would submit the budget bill to the Senate on Oct. 16, he said by telephone. “We target to finish the deliberation and the House version on or earlier than Oct. 14,” he said in mixed English and Filipino.

He also said the coup threat against Mr. Cayetano had nothing to do with pork.

Party-list Rep. Arlene D. Brosas said the House squabble exposed the persistence of pork barrel among some lawmakers, which jurisprudence has voided.

She said it stemmed from the almost P400-billion lump sum budget of the Public Works department that was sliced unevenly among districts and regions.

The lump sum would later be inserted in the still unprinted General Appropriations bill, she said in a statement on Monday.

Mr. Yap said he saw nothing wrong with these budgets for lawmakers’ districts “if it will be for the benefit of the people.”

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