FIRING LINE: Testing the Speaker

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By Robert B. Roque, Jr.

As the new Speaker, Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Jay Velasco appeared to have passed his first leadership test – rallying the House to pass the P4.506-trillion national budget for 2021 last Friday.

Now, he has to follow through with transmitting the 2021 General Appropriations Bill or GAB to the Senate – complete with the amendments submitted by agencies and void of suspicious insertions as what doomed the budget for 2019 – before the month-end.

It can be done on October 28, the date he committed to Senate President Vicente Sotto III – a full week ahead of his predecessor’s committed date (November 4), if no hanky-panky is tolerated among his peers.

If Velasco stands to prove he deserves that post he fought hard and long to shake off former speaker Alan Peter Cayetano’s hold, he must be able to move heaven and earth against a reenacted budget.

The importance of next year’s budget could not be overstated enough. Legislated spending is a crucial factor in our county’s coping with the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Apart from addressing healthcare, education, and assistance programs for the poor and unemployed, next year’s budget carries a stimulus fund aimed at jumpstarting the stalled economy.

This corner humbly advises the “Lord of the House” to guard against insertions by his colleagues that would make this all-important GAB a mere tool for parochial politics ahead of the 2022 national elections.

Be wary of the same play of events that forced a reenacted budget for 2019 – those post-bicameral committee insertions the Senate deplored and which the President vetoed. Remember the architect of those insertions – former congressman Rolando Andaya? Look over your shoulder, Mr. Speaker.

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Overall, the Lower Chamber made a good account of itself in showing that palabra de honor still existed among the better part of the House. It went a step further as an august body by passing the 2021 GAB on final reading with a vote of 257-6, for and against.

I checked and found that the six who voted against the most crucial budget in recent memory – since it primarily addresses a critical time for our history as a people having to cope with this deadly pandemic – were members of the Makabayan bloc.

The six party-list representatives, often red-tagged by Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy, might be getting too obvious. Their actions may well incite Badoy to say they’ve blown their cover.

They’d better beware. My spies in the House say newly sworn-in Duterte Youth party-list Rep. Rochelle Cardema is preparing a resolution to have them investigated by the House Ethics Committee for links to front organizations of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) that systematically recruit students in senior high school to join the revolutionary movement.

Last Thursday, parents of these minors who have been missing met with former minority leader, Manila Rep. Benny Abante – who just recently joined the Velasco supermajority – to request an executive session with the Speaker to expose the alleged association of the six Makabayan bloc members with the CPP, so my spies say.

This may well pose another test for the new Speaker. Take courage, my Lord.

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SHORT BURSTS. For comments or reactions, email firingline@ymail.com or tweet @Side_View. Read current and past issues of this column at https://.thephilbiznews.com

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