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House speakership on the line

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Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte asked members of the House of Representatives to pass the proposed P4.506-trillion budget for 2021 amid the brewing speakership dispute over the infrastructure funds allocated for legislative districts.

Villafuerte made the call after Deputy Speaker and presidential son Paolo "Pulong" Duterte confirmed a warning to move to declare the positions of Speaker and Deputy Speakers vacant as congressmen squabbled over purported inequitable budgetary allocations for their respective districts.

Villafuerte said the possible House shakeup could derail the budget's approval, noting that it could result in an impasse similar to what happened in 2018 under then-Speaker Gloria Arroyo when the House failed to pass the 2019 national budget.

The delay in the passage of the 2019 budget forced the government to work under a reenacted budget for the first part of that year.

“Sana pabayaan na muna natin na ipasa 'yung budget para 'wag naman maapektuhan ang ekonomiya (Let’s allow the budget to be passed first so that the economy won’t be affected)," he said in a radio interview.

Villafuerte said Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano has committed to pass the proposed national budget for 2021 quickly so the economy can recover from the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

“Ang alam ko, nag-usap na si Speaker at si Deputy Speaker Pulong. I think na-settle naman lahat 'yung mga concerns na ipinaparating sa kanya. Even in the same way, kung meron man, aayusin po 'yun, kasi ang talagang objective naman ni Speaker Cayetano 'di ba ano — 'people first, politics later' (What I know is that the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker Pulong have already talked and settled all concerns. All other issues will be settled in the same way because the objective of Speaker Cayetano is ‘people first, politics later')," he said.

Villafuerte noted that House Appropriations Committee chair Eric Go Yap, one of Duterte’s closest colleagues, has also said he is 99 percent sure there will be no change in the leadership and that there will be no call for the vacancy of the positions, especially with the ongoing budget deliberations.

Yap had said in an interview with ANC that Paolo Duterte’s text had been taken “out of context”.

“His point was that if there are lawmakers who are unhappy with the leadership, they can always initiate a change in leadership. That depends on the majority which will make the decision,” Yap said.

Under the term-sharing deal brokered by President Rodrigo Duterte, Cayetano would serve as the House Speaker for the first 15 months, or until October 2020, while Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco would take over and assume the highest position at the House of Representatives for the remaining 21 months or until the 18th Congress ends in 2022.

The House of Representatives immediately suspended its session on Monday after convening for only 18 minutes amid the alleged coup threat against Speaker Cayetano.

Deputy Speaker Raneo Abu declared the suspension of session until Tuesday following the roll call of members and the first reading of several measures. No motion was raised to declare leadership posts, including the speakership, as vacant. 

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