Budget Watch

Cayetano apologizes to Senate over possible 2021 budget delay remark

Mara Cepeda

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Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano insists he was taken out of context by the media

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano apologized to senators for sounding like he was shifting the blame to them should there be a delay in the passage of the proposed P4.5-trillion budget for 2021.

On Thursday, October 8, Cayetano said he called up Senate President Vicente Sotto III to say sorry for his remarks, claiming that what he said was misconstrued by the media. 

“Sabi ko nga kay Sen. Sotto, ‘Pasensya ka na kung ganyan ang dating. I apologize kung ganyan ang dating, pero kung titingnan mo ang buong context, hindi gano’n ang context,’” Cayetano said in a Facebook Live video. 

(I told Senator Sotto, “I am sorry if that’s how it came across. I apologize if it came out that way, but if you look at the whole context, it wasn’t the context.”)

“’Yung context is kung magkakaroon ng reenacment, it won’t be on the part of the House because we made sure na one day lang ang pinag-uusapan,” added the Taguig City-Pateros congressman. (The context was if there would be a reenactment of the budget, it would not be on the part of the House because we made sure that there would only be a day of delay.)

The Speaker earned senators’ ire when he and his allies moved to hastily approve the 2021 budget on 2nd reading, then suspended sessions until November 16.

Cayetano likewise apologized to Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, chair of the Senate committee on finance, for the looming late transmission of the 2021 budget to the upper chamber.

The latest maneuverings in the House were seen as calculated moves by Cayetano to foil the plans of his rival Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Velasco to take over as Speaker by October 14. Cayetano and his allies though, deny this.

Sotto then led other senators in warning that Cayetano’s power play imperiled the timely passage of the 2021 budget.

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Besieged by criticisms, the Speaker went live on Facebook on Wednesday, October 7, and seemed to imply it would be the Senate’s fault if the 2021 budget is not passed on time. 

“One day lang po ang diperensya and I hope that maging malinaw ito because kung magkakaroon po ng delay o reenactment (There would only be a one-day difference and I hope this is clear, because if there would be a delay or reenactment), it will be because of the Senate not because of the House, because we are only talking about only one day,” Cayetano said.

Again Thursday, the Speaker gave assurances the 2021 budget would be delayed only by a day, as the House aimed to approve the budget on final reading on November 16 and immediately transmit it to the Senate the following day. 

Velasco on Thursday urged his rival to reopen the plenary deliberations on the budget, saying it was “far bigger than the fight for speakership.”

“I join the collective call of my fellow lawmakers in the Senate and in the House of Representatives for the resumption of plenary sessions in Congress so we can carry out our sacred constitutional mandate of passing the proposed 2021 General Appropriations Act,” Velasco said in a statement.

He once again asked Cayetano to stop holding the 2021 budget hostage in the name of his ambitions.

“The budget issue is far bigger than the fight for speakership. Blackmailing the executive department to cede to one’s personal ambition or holding the budget hostage in order to achieve one’s political whim is a great disservice to the Filipino people,” the Marinduque congressman said.

Still, Cayetano was unmoved and not keen on reopening plenary deliberations on the budget. He claimed there were “saboteurs” out to politicize the plenary discussions.

He said the House was better off with the small committee he had formed. This committee’s task is to thresh and finalize all amendments lawmakers want to make on the 2021 budget by November 5.

If we continue the budget hearing on the floor, pinupulitika na, there are saboteurs, there were people na may sariling intensyon. Hindi na nakakapag-usap nang mabuti ang mga kongresista at mga departamento. So ‘yung ginawa namin na ito is not a shortcut. It is a better way,Cayetano said.

(If we continue the budget hearing on the floor, it was already being politicized. There were saboteurs. There were people who have their own interests. The congressmen and the departments could no longer talk to each other. What we did is not a shortcut. It is a better way.)

The grumblings of lawmakers over the uneven sharing in the 2021 budget sparked the latest Cayetano-Velasco power struggle in the House.

Sotto accepts apology

Sought for comment, Sotto told reporters that he accepted Cayetano’s apology. 

“Accepted and I said we will do our best to work on the time we have as the Senate always does,” said Sotto.

The Speaker also promised to give the Senate a copy of the House-amended version of the 2021 General Appropriations Bill as early as November 5. 

“Yes he called. He promised to submit by November 5 their proposed copies of the different budget books, therefore the GAB (General Appropriations Bill), which they will approve on 3rd reading. I said that will help us, especially our finance chairman,” said Sotto.

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque already said Malacañang would not hesitate to call for a special session in December if lawmakers needed more time to pass the 2021 national budget before the end of the year. 

Congress needs to pass the budget before it takes a break by December 18. If both chambers of Congress do not approve the 2021 budget then, President Rodrigo Duterte would not be able to sign it into law, forcing the government to act on yet another reenacted budget. 

The Duterte administration had to operate on a reenacted budget for the first 3 months of 2020 after the President failed to sign the budget bill on time. Congress passed the budget on December 11, 2019, but the President signed it only January 6, 2020. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.