The last time two Duterte administration allies had a Speakership squabble, the national budget ended up being reenacted to the detriment of Filipinos.

zarate - Reenacted budget possible due to House Majority infighting –Zarate
Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate (Bayan Muna Party list Facebook page / MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Carlos Zarate dropped this trivia Thursday, along with the warning that it could happen again for the proposed 2021 budget given the current word war between Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano (Taguig-Pateros) and Speaker-in-waiting Lord Allan Velasco (Marinduque).

“Pwedeng mangyari din yan ngayon kung hindi matigil itong bangayan sa loob ng Duterte coalition. Malaki ang responsibility dito. (That could happen again if the bickering within the Duterte administration doesn’t stop. This entails a huge responsibility),” he said.

The precedent Zarate was referring to were the events in Congress following July 23, 2018, or when then-Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez (Davao del Norte) was ousted in a coup d’etat on the day of President Duterte’s third State of the Nation Address (SONA).

Alvarez’s successor was former president and then-Pampanga Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a fellow Duterte administration backer. The Majority congressmen who plotted the coup apparently were fed up with Alvarez’s “bruising” style of leadership, which rubbed even his party-mates the wrong way.

Although the situation then wasn’t exactly the same as now–for example, Alvarez and Arroyo didn’t have a term-sharing agreement like Cayetano and Velasco–Zarate noted that the infighting among the Majority solons was enough to derail the timely passage of the then-proposed 2019 budget.

“Kaya sa bangayan na iyon, ang naging result nagkaroon ng reenacted budget at ang nag-suffer noon, ultimately tayo na mamamayang Pilipino dahil sa look ng halos tatlong buwan ay walang bagong spending authority from Congress. Yung mga bagong programa na dapat inimplement na by January 1 ay hindi na-implement (The bickering resulted in a reenacted budget and it was ultimately the Filipino people who suffered from it because there was no new spending authority from Congress for almost three months. The new programs that were supposed to be implemented by January 1 wasn’t implemented),” he noted.

Reenacting a budget basically means using last year’s appropriations law for the current year. This action is frowned upon because it suggests that the House of Representatives was remiss in one of its primary functions–to allocate funds for government expenditure.

The delayed passage of the 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA) and subsequent use of a reenacted budget reportedly led to P463.6 billion in economic losses for the first half of that year. The 2019 GAA was eventually enacted that same year.

During Wednesday’s plenary session and amid the debates on the proposed 2020 national budget, Cayetano offered to resign as Speaker. However, 184 House members voted to reject this offer via a nominal vote.

An unfortunate offshoot of Wednesday’s numbers-flexing was the suspension of the budget bill’s consideration, which lasted until the start of plenary session at 10 a.m. Friday.

Zarate and the rest of the Makabayan Bloc have criticized this suspension given the fact that House Bill 7727, worth P4.506 trillion, is the first budget to be crafted in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think the buck stops also in Malacañang, kay Pangulong Duterte, dahil siya ang nag-broker nitong kaayusan sa House of Representatives (with President Duterte, since he is the one who brokered this term-sharing deal in the House of Representatives),” Zarate said. 

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