Duterte warns he’ll intercede if House squabble risks budget

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine president warned Thursday he will intercede and resolve a leadership row in the House of Representatives if the impasse threatens to stall the passage of next year’s budget during the coronavirus crisis.

President Rodrigo Duterte did not elaborate on what he would do if House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Rep. Lord Allan Velasco fail to end their rivalry over leadership of the 300-member legislative chamber. Duterte appeared on TV to air his warning with top military and police officials behind him.

“Either you resolve the issue on your impasse there and pass the budget legally and constitutionally and if you don’t do it, I’ll do it for you,” Duterte said.

“Think of the Filipinos who are in the hospital and need medicine and those who may die at this time without medicine, without anything,” Duterte said, adding he should not be dragged into the leadership squabble.

Velasco said he should assume the speakership by Oct. 14 under a power-sharing deal brokered by Duterte. But Cayetano demanded that Velasco prove he has the backing of most legislators, then abruptly allowed the suspension of congressional sessions until Nov. 16, pre-empting any attempt to wrest control of Congress from him.

Cayetano’s camp steered the initial approval of the proposed 2021 national budget amounting to 4.5 trillion pesos ($90 billion), then announced the congressional break. Several lawmakers protested that they were deprived of their right to scrutinize the budget and called for an immediate resumption of congressional sessions.

Opposition Rep. Edcel Lagman said deliberations on the proposed budgets for the Department of Health and other agencies have not been concluded and were overrun by the leadership squabble.

The Philippines has reported the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 infections in Southeast Asia at more than 331,000, with more than 6,000 deaths.

Duterte has realigned budgets from the defense department and other agencies and resorted to borrowing to finance massive efforts to address the pandemic and provide aid to millions of people displaced by months of lockdowns and quarantine.

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