President Duterte couldn’t care less who the House Speaker is as long as the proposed P4.506 trillion national budget is passed on time, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Savaldor Panelo said on Monday.

PANELO2123456 1024x574 - Panelo: Duterte couldn’t care less who the House Speaker is as long as GAB is passed on time
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Savaldor Panelo

Panelo, in his “Counterpoint program” on state television, said the approval of the budget is the President’s primary concern regardless of who the House Speaker is.

“The President is only concerned with one thing. He couldn’t care less whoever is leading you there. He wants this budget passed,” Panelo said.

“Pass the national budget. That is the urgent necessity,” he said, echoing the President’s appeal to the lawmakers.

The President had earlier called for a special session of Congress from October 13 to 16 to facilitate the passage of the 2021 budget proposal.

The new spending plan, that seeks to bankroll the government’s response and recovery efforts during the coronavirus pandemic, has also been certified as urgent by the President for its timely approval.

Amid the escalating leadership row between Speaker Alan Cayetano and Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, Duterte had earlier told lawmakers to “resolve the issue of the impasse” and “pass the budget legally and constitutionally” or else he will do it for them.

Panelo explained that the President wanted the lawmakers to settle the leadership conflict and immediately pass the proposed 2021 national budget.

“Ang basa ko naman ‘yung sinabi ni Presidente na ‘ayusin ninyo ang gusot ninyo’ kasi naapektuhan ‘yung budget dahil nagkakagulo kayo (I understand the President said ‘fix your mess’ because it is affecting the budget because you’re in disarray),” he said.

“Sa halip na matapos na sa October 14, in-adjourn para hindi makarating sa 14 yung palitan o di ba politika ‘yun kasi nga nagkakaaway kayo, nagkakagulo kayo sa speakership (Instead of ending on October 14, the session was abruptly adjourned to skip the turnover date on the 14th. Isn’t that politicking? Because you’re fighting over the speakership),” he said.

He noted that lawmakers tried to resolve the leadership issue when they convened at a sports club in Quezon ahead of the start of the special session. He said such House action was “consistent” with the President’s appeal to address the impasse to avoid the delay of the budget.

“Inaayos nila ang gusot para hindi maapektuhan ang budget. ‘Yan ang tingin natin diyan (They are trying to fix the mess so the budget will not be affected. That’s what I think),” he said.

Velasco was installed as the new House Speaker by a majority of lawmakers during an assembly at Celebrity Sports Plaza Monday. Cayetano, however, dismissed the session as invalid since it was supposedly done outside the Batasang Pambansa.

On whether the House activity at the sports club is legal or not, Panelo said the Supreme Court will eventually decide on the matter. But he believed that such House assembly may be constitutionally allowed as long as the lawmakers constituted a quorum.

Even if the assembly outside the Batasan is deemed invalid, Panelo said lawmakers could still repeat their action during the special session “if you really have the numbers.”

But he said there might still be a “showdown” on the leadership issue when the special session resumes since the other camp might do a “maneuver.”

“Let’s see how the cookie crumbles,” he said.

“Abangan natin ang susunod na kabanata. Basta ipasa ninyo ang budget. ‘Yun ang mahalaga doon (Let’s watch out for the next chapter. But you must pass the budget. That’s the important thing),” he said.

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