MANILA – Malacañang on Wednesday said it does not see the suspension of session at the House of Representatives as a reason to cause a delay in the passage of the proposed PHP4.5-trillion national budget for 2021.
The House on Tuesday suspended its session until Nov. 16 after a hasty second reading approval of the general appropriations bill which contains the proposed budget.
In an interview over CNN Philippines’ The Source, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque thanked the lower chamber’s “speedy” passage of the budget bill on second reading as it brings the measure a step closer to its third and final approval.
“We thank the House for its speedy action in passing the [budget],” he said.
Roque, a former lawmaker, said he does not see any delay since the budget bill has been passed on second reading and passing a proposed law on third and final reading is “ceremonial”.
“I don’t think it will have any effect on passing the budget on time because they passed it on second reading. It’s for all intention and purposes approved,” he said.
He also explained that lawmakers could no longer make any amendments when a proposed law is approved on second reading.
“On third and final reading, you can no longer move for amendments. That’s already the final version of the House bill. It’s either you vote for or against the measure and now we’re expecting of course that as soon as it is printed and brought to the floor for the third reading, that all the administration parties, all those supporters of the President will cast a yes vote,” he added.
According to Roque, there is a “time lag” between the passage on second and third reading because the budget bill would still have to be printed.
“There really is a need for time because they will have to print the final version of the proposed law before they could approve it on third and final reading. So it is always the case that there is a time lag between the approval on second reading of the budget and the third reading because you’re talking about three volumes of very large books to be printed by the House,” he said.
Since the House has already commenced its deliberation on the budget bill, he said the Senate can also act on the budget already.
“What is important is that the House has already commenced its deliberation on the budget, meaning the Senate can also act on the budget already because there is no requirement that the Senate must wait for the approval on third and final reading. It is enough that the budget has originated from the House,” he said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III earlier said the House seems to have disregarded President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to prioritize the budget since suspending its session would not allow the budget to reach the Senate before it goes on break on Oct. 14.
Roque, however, said lawmakers were “playing safe” by refusing to take the blame should there be a delay in the passage of the budget.
“I think everyone is just playing safe because again what is important is it must have originated, and as construed by the Supreme Court, originated does not mean it has to be passed in final form. It is enough that they have actually originated discussion in the budget and I think the approval on second reading is clear evidence that they have already originated the House bill, in the House, which enables the Senate to proceed with its own deliberations,” he said.
After the move to suspend session without resolving the speakership row, Roque reminded Duterte’s allies—House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco to ensure the timely passage of the budget.
“The message of the President to both Speaker Cayetano and Lord Allan Velasco is do what you may have to do but the budget cannot be delayed. We cannot have a re-enacted budget,” he added.
In 2019, Duterte brokered a term-sharing agreement where Cayetano would serve as the Speaker until October 2020 while Velasco would supposedly take over and assume the position until the 18th Congress ends in 2022.
Cayetano’s move to force the early suspension of the session and the approval on second reading of the proposed budget preempted any attempt to snatch away the leadership from him at least until mid-November.
Duterte has refused to meddle in the speakership row as it is an “internal matter” of the Lower House. (PNA)