WITH a new Speaker of the House of Representatives, two Cebu City lawmakers are hoping the city’s two districts will get a better allocation in the proposed 2021 annual budget.
South District Rep. Rodrigo Abellanosa hopes Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco will rectify the “inequitable” allocation.
Abellanosa, North District Rep. Raul del Mar and Cebu Sixth District Rep. Emmarie Ouano-Dizon were among the 186 lawmakers who voted for Velasco to become the highest-ranking official of the lower house of Congress on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020.
The three officials from Cebu attended the meeting held outside the Batasang Pambansa.
In the proposed 2021 national budget, the north district will get P992,436,000, while the south district will get P912,787,000. The amounts are identical to the approved budgets for 2020, Abellanosa said.
Abellanosa had said the amounts were “small” compared to the contribution of the city to the national coffers.
Del Mar, in a text message to SunStar Cebu, said he voted for Velasco because he was sure the latter could get more for his constituents in the north district.
He also said Velasco was able to prove he had the numbers to unseat Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano, which was not a condition in their term-sharing agreement brokered by President Rodrigo Duterte in July 2019.
Under the agreement, Cayetano will serve as Speaker in the first 15 months until October 2020 and Velasco will take over in the next 21 months of the 18th Congress.
Dizon, for her part, said supporting Velasco’s bid was a party decision.
“Aside from respecting the term-sharing agreement, the House leadership is always reflective of the mandate of the majority and the coalition of parties that support the administration of President Duterte,” she said.
Velasco is a member of PDP-Laban, Duterte’s party. Dizon and Abellanosa are the only Cebuano lawmakers who belong to the ruling party.
Cebu Third District Rep. Pablo John Garcia did not attend Monday’s meeting.
“I wasn’t present because I wasn’t notified and, as far as I know, the session is suspended until Nov. 16. And the special session was called by the President tomorrow, not today. And it was addressed to Speaker Cayetano,” he said.
Garcia, who is also deputy speaker, said Cayetano has his support.
The other lawmakers from Cebu are Representatives Eduardo Gullas of the first district, Wilfredo Caminero of the second district, Janice Salimbangon of the fourth district, Vincent Franco Frasco of the fifth district, Peter John Calderon of the seventh district and Paz Radaza of the Lapu-Lapu City lone district.
SunStar Cebu tried to get their statements, to no avail.
In a meeting at the Celebrity Sports Plaza on Monday, 186 lawmakers also elected Pampanga Rep. Juan Pablo Bondoc as majority floor leader, Jocelyn Bighani Sipin as the new House secretary general and retired general Mao Aplasca as the new sergeant-at-arms.
They also declared their mace as the official mace of the House. The mace is the symbol of the lower chamber’s authority. Under the Rules of the House, it should be displayed and borne by the sergeant-at-arms to enforce order on the floor while the House is in session.
Cayetano, in a virtual press conference held simultaneously with the Velasco-led session, branded the Velasco-led session as a “fake session.”
He insisted that he has the support of the majority of the 305 members of the lower chamber, citing a previous manifesto wherein 205 congressmen expressed support for him. With 186 voting for Velasco as Speaker, however, Cayetano said there are “flying voters” in the House.
“The last time I checked, ang Celebrity Sports Plaza ay hindi naman Kongreso (is not Congress). It creates a very, very disturbing precedent. Kung ang theory nila basta’t may (If their theory is as long as there is) quorum anywhere they can meet, then that means at any point and any day, I can bring 152 congressmen and do whatever I want in whatever part of the country. Napaka-delikado po no’n (That’s very dangerous),” Cayetano said.
To the members of the House, he said, “Don’t throw the Constitution to the wastebasket.”
Cayetano said the lower chamber will have an “honorable, orderly session” on Tuesday, Oct. 13, pursuant to the President’s Proclamation 1027, which called for a special session to ensure the approval of the 2021 budget without delay.
He said deliberations on the 2021 budget will be done in three days, at most, if the majority of the membership cooperates.
Deliberations on the budget were terminated on Oct. 6 and House Bill (HB) 7727 was approved on second reading. The House then suspended session, 11 days ahead of its scheduled recess on Oct. 17.
To avoid any delay in the approval of the budget bill, Duterte on Oct. 9 issued Proclamation 1027, calling for a special session from October 13 to 16 to ensure passage of HB 7727, or the General Appropriations Bill.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, via videoconferencing, discussed the legalities of holding the session outside the Batasang Pambansa and said it is “constitutional, valid, necessary and will correct the unconstitutional suspension of the session.”
Bondoc, as majority leader, then declared, “It has been proven without a doubt. We are in session and we have a quorum. We are in order to conduct our business.”
Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza Jr., one of the 15 lawmakers who signed a manifesto calling on the super majority to install Velasco as Speaker, moved to declare the position of Speaker vacant.
After nominal voting, the lawmakers declared the position of Speaker vacant.
Eight members of the House then each took the floor and nominated Velasco as Speaker. All 186 congressmen present in the session voted in favor of Velasco.
Bondoc said the 186 votes cast in favor of each motion made during the session are more than the 151 required majority votes.
He also said any votes cast during the session are in order in accordance with Section 91, Rule 12 of the Rules of the House, which allows the conduct of session through electronic platforms.
Under Section 91, members of the House may register their votes through virtual conference, mobile phone numbers or other electronic accounts submitted earlier.
“All of us in attendance here have participated in the August daily nominal voting conducted through electronic platforms, through Zoom, through Viber, by texting. We’ve used our numbers and our electronic accounts and our votes have been recorded. Therefore, our votes today as registered through Section 91, Rule 12 are in order,” he said. (MVI / SunStar Philippines / JJL, KFD, ANV)