Lawmakers are eyeing a special session of Congress to prevent the delay in the approval of the P4.506-trilllion 2021 proposed national budget.

sotto4 1 - Lawmakers eye special session of Congress to pass proposed P4.506 T budget
Sen. Vicente Sotto III (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

Senate President Vicente Sotto III confirmed on Wednesday that he raised the idea with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea after the House of Representatives abruptly went on a month-long break ahead of the scheduled suspension of Congress’ sessions next week.

“Yes, the Palace can call for a special session,” Sotto said in a text message.

“It was an idea I told ES (Medialdea) if they want to prevent the delay of the budget,” he added.

The lower chamber suspended its session after House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano made the motion to terminate further discussions on the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) and immediately approved it on second reading sans their committee and individual amendments. Congressmen decided to resume their session on November 16.

Sotto had slammed the move, saying this will delay the approval of the priority bill and would “most probably” result in a reenacted budget next year.

Based on the 18th Congress legislative calendar, lawmakers are supposed to go on recess starting October 16 until November 16. The House leadership had earlier vowed to pass the GAB by October 14.

Should the executive department agree to his proposal, Sotto said the Senate will be willing to hold sessions even during the break.

Meanwhile, Sotto said he and Cayetano spoke last night when the latter committed to approve the budget bill on third and final reading as soon as they resume next month.

In a radio interview, however, the Senate leader said their counterpart could have just approved it on third and final reading if they indeed intend to rush the approval.

“‘Kahapon, noong tumawag sa akin si Speaker Alan, sabi ko: ‘Pinasa niyo rin lang on second reading, ba’t ‘di niyo pinasa on third reading?’ ‘Di ba? Kung ganon din lang. Pwede niyo nang ma-transmit na sa amin — marami siyang dahilan, eh (Yesterday, when Speaker Alan called me, I told him: ‘Since you approved it already on second reading, why didn’t you proceed with the third reading approval?’ Right? If they really wanted it that way. They could just transmit it to us — but he had a lot of reasons),” Sotto told Radyo 5.

Sotto said his colleagues were also concerned over the “very tight” time that the House is giving them to debate on the government’s spending plan.

He maintained that the Senate cannot be rushed in scrutinizing the provisions and funds being allocated to agencies.

“Hindi pwede sa amin, kahit noong araw pa hanggang ngayon, never naging pwede sa railroad eh. Laging bubusisiin ‘yan. (It has not been our practice, even before until now, to railroad the budget. It will always be scrutinized),” he said, noting that senators will also have to study the House-approved budget bill before formally discussing it in plenary.

The Senate leader said their fellow legislators should have realized the challenges in holding debates due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the constraints with their hybrid sessions and hearings which take longer.

“Ine-expect ko talaga madedelay talaga kami. Sana naman narerealize nila yon bago nila naisipan ‘yon (I really expect that we will be delayed. They should have realized that before deciding to suspend their session),” Sotto said.

Following their sudden suspension, Cayetano, on Tuesday, allayed concerns on the possibility of a reenacted budget and assured Sotto that they will transmit the budget in time.

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