Andaya assumes House budget committee post; Castro new majority leader

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 21) — A former Budget secretary took over the leadership of the House Appropriations Committee on Monday.

Camarines Sur 1st District Rep. Rolando Andaya is the new Appropriations Committee chairman. The new majority leader is Capiz 2nd District Rep. Fredenil Castro, who was former Deputy Speaker before Andaya nominated him to the post during the plenary session. The majority leader is concurrent Rules Committee chairman.

"I nominate this famed law professor, this feared trial litigator, this bemedalled sportsman, this veteran lawmaker whose sartorial style is as elegant as his oratory," Andaya said in a speech.

Shortly after his nomination, Castro vowed to pick up where Andaya left off.

"I will try my best to fit his shoes. I will try my best on how to serve the House of Representatives within my humble capacity," Castro said.

Andaya initially laid out his plans for the Appropriations Committee, which approves and oversees the national budget. He would also head the House contingent for the bicameral conference committee meetings on the 2019 budget.

"I will push for full transparency in the bicam deliberations. If need be, I will propose televised proceedings of the bicameral conference. Let those who propose funds for projects and programs come out in the open to defend their positions," he said.

Castro earlier confirmed to CNN Philippines that Andaya would turn over the majority leadership to him and would head the appropriations panel. The majority leader is concurrent rules committee chairman.

"I think we are only placing things in proper perspective," he said.

Andaya, as rules panel chairman, has been conducting hearings into the alleged insertions in the national budget.

He was Budget Secretary when House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was President.

Andaya told CNN Philippines in a text message that he has "been wanting out," adding that Castro "is the right man for the job."

Castro said he and Andaya have previously agreed to sharing the post.

"Wala kaming pinagusapan na definite, except na meron kaming understanding that anytime I'm going to be the majority leader... Iyan ang tinatawag namin ni Congressman Andaya na 'an understanding between two honorable persons,'" Castro said.

Andaya has previously told CNN Philippines' The Source that he is considering to bow out as majority leader in preparation for his gubernatorial run in Camarines Sur.

During the House leadership change in July 2018, Castro gave way to Andaya for the majority leader post, replacing Ilocos Norte Rep. Rudy Fariñas when Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez was ousted as Speaker.

Graceful exit?

Meanwhile, Malacañang said in a statement that now Andaya is out as majority leader, it urged him to "cease from waging a media propaganda war to besmirch the image and reputation of a member of the Cabinet before the court of public opinion."

"If he has problems with the current Budget Secretary, we hope that he would look for an appropriate venue by just filing a case against him in the court of law," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a statement.

Panelo also said the executive branch had no hand in the leadership change and expressed confidence that better relations between the legislature and the executive would be better with Castro as House majority leader.

But even with Andaya no longer the majority leader, it appears that he would not let go of the probe into the alleged anomalies in the 2019 budget, which has largely centered on Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Benjamin Diokno's move to add to the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

Andaya's last act as majority leader was to transfer the probe on the budget from the Rules committee to the Appropriations committee, which he now chairs.

Andaya leaving the majority leader post came a week after rumors of an ouster plot against him began circulating.

Camarines Sur 2nd District Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr., the father of Camarines Sur Gov. Migz Villafuerte who Andaya is challenging in the midterm polls, said the House leadership shakeup was meant to give him a "face-saving or graceful exit as majority leader."

The older Villafuerte, who supposedly was the brains behind the move to oust Andaya, said the leadership shakeup would not be necessary had the former majority leader did not tag team with House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez in calling for a probe on the 2019 budget by the Rules committee.

He added that Andaya's stepping down from the majority leader post is an admission that the probe was legally infirm, as House rules only allow the Rules committee to handle the chamber's internal matters.

He also warned that Andaya's transition to the helm of the appropriations panel would allow him to "wreak havoc" at the bicameral conference committee of the 2019 budget.

But in his last speech as majority leader, Andaya defended his conduct of the House probe, which delayed the passage of the 2019 budget, causing the 2018 budget to be reenacted.

"We cannot pass a budget marinated in flood control funds, or drowning in DBM-inserted infrastructure projects the DPWH remains clueless about," Andaya said.

Andaya's investigation on the alleged "insertions" in the 2019 budget has largely centered on the ₱75 billion which the DBM said it allocated to the DPWH to fulfill their goal of spending up to five percent of the country's gross domestic product for infrastructure projects.

The Senate, on account of the DPWH still being clueless about the ₱75 billion funding, is eyeing to delete this from the department's budget and move it to the Department of Health or use it for the acquisition of the embattled Hanjin Heavy Industries Corporation

CNN Philippines' Xave Gregorio, Xianne Arcangel and Lara Tan contributed to this report.