Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Sunday said President Duterte might again call a special session of Congress on Nov. 9-13 to let the Senate start plenary deliberations on the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021, a week ahead of their original schedule. Drilon said this would give his colleagues enough time to submit to Malacañang the final draft of next year’s expenditure program within the first week of December and have it approved by the President before the year ends.
“The holding of a special session is a ‘safety net’ in case there will be delays [on] the [bicameral committee],” said the veteran lawmaker, referring to the conference panels of the Senate and the House of Representatives that will hammer out the final version of the spending measure.
“We can finish [the Senate plenary debates] within five to seven days and allot two weeks for the [bicameral committee],” Drilon said in a radio interview.
The senator issued the remarks a few days after Mr. Duterte signed Proclamation No. 1027 directing Congress to convene a special session on Oct. 13-16, following the recess called last Tuesday by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and his allies in the House of Representatives.
Cayetano’s move was seen as a bid to prevent his rival, Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, from calling for a leadership vote in the House leadership on Oct. 14.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson expressed optimism that the special session would give legislators sufficient time to peruse the government’s appropriations plan for next year.
“We’re almost certain that the GAB (general appropriations bill), or the House version, will be passed on Friday, Oct. 16,” he said. “It’s almost definite unless the unknowns happen.”
Lacson said he hoped that the speakership row would be resolved within a day during the four-day special session to ensure that the budget would be transmitted to the Senate before its recess on Oct. 16.
“They [House members] will still have three days to pass on third reading their version of the national budget,” he said.
Lacson said that under its original schedule, the conference committee should present to Mr. Duterte the final draft of the spending measure by Dec. 19.
Drilon reiterated that Congress cannot afford to let the national government operate on a reenacted budget next year as various projects were needed to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Just look at these alarming figures: 7.6 million families are hungry, 7.3 million lost jobs last April and 4.6 million in July, and 5.5 million of our countrymen can be pushed into poverty next without sufficient economic relief from the government” Drilon said. —MARLON RAMOS INQ
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