By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

THE HOUSE of Representatives on Tuesday approved next year’s P4.5-trillion national budget on second reading after Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano, who has rejected a term-sharing deal he agreed to last year, moved to terminate debates and sessions until Nov. 16.

This prevents his rival — Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Q. Velasco — from trying to take over the post under a gentleman’s agreement brokered by President Rodrigo R. Duterte between the lawmakers. Mr. Velasco was supposed to take control of the speakership on Oct. 14.

Under the pact, Mr. Cayetano would be Speaker in the first 15 months of the 18th Congress, and Mr. Velasco would serve for the remaining 21 months.

Congressmen voted through loud ayes and nays on Zoom Cloud Meetings, but other lawmakers including Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza, who supports Mr. Velasco, claimed their microphones had been muted during the session.

Mr. Atienza and other party-list lawmakers under the Partylists Coalition Foundation, Inc. earlier criticized the removal of their president, Partylist Rep. Michael Romero as deputy speaker.

The group said legislative proceedings had been hijacked, noting that few lawmakers were allowed to go to the House plenary hall in Quezon City. Majority of House members attend sessions via Zoom amid a coronavirus pandemic.

Instead of continuing plenary debates on the budget,  Mr. Cayetano created a small committee that will consolidate proposed amendments during the break. Congress was supposed to suspend sessions on Oct. 17 and resume on Nov. 16 under its legislative calendar.

“You are not the real lord, it’s just your name,” Mr. Cayetano addressed his political nemesis before the budget was approved on second reading. Just because Mr. Velasco wishes to become Speaker doesn’t mean he will get it, he added..

The Speaker’s move was “typical of a poor loser,” Mr. Atienza said in a statement after the session was suspended.

“This proves beyond doubt that Speaker Cayetano is desperately hanging on,” he said. “He has just publicly confirmed that he is losing ground, that’s why he did it.”

“He didn’t care about constitutional integrity, throwing everything into the air and making Congress go on a long vacation,” the congressman said, accusing Mr. Cayetano of violating House rules.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte met with Mr. Velasco on Monday night, where he agreed to his plan to run for Speaker, presidential spokesman Harry L. Roque told an online news briefing on Tuesday.

“Congressman Lord Allan asked permission from the President to run for Speaker and the answer of the President was ‘It’s your right according to the agreement with Speaker Alan Cayetano,’” he said.

Mr. Duterte earlier met with the two rivals and asked both to honor the pact. He also told congressional leaders not to lose focus on next year’s national budget amid the pandemic.

Mr. Cayetano earlier in the day said he would confront the “illegal business activities” of congressmen belonging to the House supermajority that supports Mr. Velasco. He did not elaborate.