MANILA - House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano has raised the idea of "shortening" bicameral discussions to ensure that the P4.5-trillion 2021 budget would be passed before the end of the year, Senate Committee on Finance chair Sonny Angara said Wednesday.
Cayetano - who abruptly suspended Tuesday the House's session amid an agreement to turn over the Speakership to Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco on Oct. 14 - has been calling senators to "allay fears of a delayed budget," Angara said in an online press conference.
Cayetano assured senators that the House can transmit the 2021 budget to the Senate by mid-November, giving the Senate only 3 weeks to pass the spending bill before the year-end deadline, Angara said.
"How can we do something we usually do in 3 to 4 weeks? It's either we call for a special session, or shorten the process... Like the bicam... maybe we can do it for a few days," he said.
"There is no concrete plan yet. It was just suggested by Speaker Cayetano," Angara added.
Cayetano also said that the House could give senators "an advance copy of what the [2021 budget passed on] third reading will look like," Angara disclosed.
But Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the senators would not be pushed to "railroad" the budget that was delayed due to a power struggle in the House.
"Hindi kami puwedeng madaliin dahil 'pag minadali kami, maraming blind spot na mangyayari," Sotto told reporters in a separate press conference.
(We cannot be rushed because if they rush us, there will be a lot of blind spots.)
"Barya-barya na nga lang nakakarating sa kababayan natin, hindi pa namin babantayan?" he said, noting that senators are keen in removing unconstitutional insertions in the spending bill.
(Our countrymen receive small amounts only, so why should we be stopped from guarding that fund?)
The bicameral conference discussions on the 2021 budget can only be "shortened" if the House "adopts" the Senate's final version, Sotto said.
"Adopt nila yung version namin, bibilis yung bicam," he said.
"Kung may pag-uusapan sa bicam, hindi nila i-a-adopt yung version ng Senado, hindi ko maisip paano mapapabilis," he said.
(If there will still be discussions in the bicam, if they will not adopt the Senate's version, I can't think of ways on how this can be it can be fast-tracked.)
Sotto, who also received a call from Cayetano, said the House Speaker did not seem "apologetic" over the delays caused by his decision to abruptly suspend House plenary work until mid-November.
"He was not really apologetic, but he was explaining," Sotto said.
"Wala daw certification [as urgent] so they cannot pass it on third reading on the same day," he added.
"But if you really want to pass it on third reading, puwedeng sa Monday, i-third reading na nila... kaso nag-suspend," he said.
The only way to ensure the timely passage of the budget is for the House to send the spending bill to the Senate on time, Sotto said.
In condemning Cayetano's move, Velasco said their fellow lawmakers "were not given the ample time to scrutinize the budget of various important government agencies."
"The unilateral acts of Speaker Cayetano clearly translates to the loss of confidence by majority House members on him as he knows that the Super Majority Coalition is no longer with him in view of the glaring and blatant inequities in the district budget allocation for 2020 and 2021 where the lion shares only belong to a few Congressmen who are his allies and minions," Velasco said in a statement Tuesday night.