MANILA, Oct 13 (Reuters) – Philippine lawmakers elected a new house speaker on Tuesday, ending a protracted leadership battle that was threatening to delay passage of a 4.5 trillion pesos ($92.67 billion) budget vital to rebuilding the country’s battered economy.
Lord Allan Velasco replaced Alan Peter Cayetano as speaker with support from 186 of the 299-member lower house, ahead of a four-day special session called by President Rodrigo Duterte to finalise the 2021 budget.
Duterte, 75, faces the enormous task of pulling the Philippine economy, which before the coronavirus pandemic was one of Asia’s fastest-growing, out of recession and creating work for millions left jobless.
The firebrand leader told the lower chamber on Thursday to settle its row over a term-sharing agreement between Velasco and Cayetano, both allies of Duterte, to get the budget passed.
“The message has been received, the priority is the budget not politics,” presidential spokesman, Harry Roque. said of the change in house leadership.
“The president is optimistic (the budget) will be passed”.
The Philippines is forecast to see a 6.9% economic contraction this year, the World Bank has said, the biggest since the 1980s and worse than the government’s projected 5.5% decline.
Its recovery has been constrained by an unrelenting first wave of infections since March, with more than 340,000 cases, Southeast Asia’s highest number, limiting its ability to fully reopen businesses, internal travel and restart domestic and international tourism. ($1 = 48.56 Philippine pesos) (Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty)