While Alvarez was making enemies, Arroyo was consolidating her forces
Discontent had been growing in the House of Representatives long before the coup that erupted on Monday and led to the downfall of Pantaleon Alvarez and the rise, once again, of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The power shift happened with the knowledge — if not blessing — of President Rodrigo Duterte, who was forced to wait a full hour before delivering his State of the Nation Address (Sona) to a joint session of Congress as the leadership row played out on national television.
“Let’s put it this way: He [Duterte] was not surprised,” said Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles, one of the 184 House members who voted for Arroyo as new Speaker on Monday night, ending Alvarez’s two-year grip on the post.
“There had been talk and he was aware of the talk. Although he does not really interfere in affairs of the House, he was aware of what was going on,” Nograles told the Inquirer by phone.
“He was not upset,” he said, contradicting the claim of Senate President Vicente Sotto III, who told reporters that the President nearly walked out in anger.
Cancellation of midterms
Malacañang on Tuesday distanced itself from the events on Monday, but said the President had been concerned over the insistence of Alvarez on canceling next year’s midterm elections to give way to work on the proposed shift to federalism.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the President opposed the cancellation of the elections.
“He used very strong language, he authorized me to restate what he said, and that is under no circumstances will he have a hand in that,” Roque said.
The Palace official described the atmosphere in the holding room at the House while Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea was mediating the leadership row as more than tense.
“You better believe it. Tempers were really flaring all over the place, but they all had to behave because the President was around, of course,” Roque told reporters.
“I think he talked to them one after the other, but I have no idea what they talked about,” he said.
Roque said Medialdea had asked him to leave because the problem was an internal matter for the House.
Roque said Malacañang was “able and ready” to work with Arroyo.
Nograles was tight-lipped about the role in the coup of Mr. Duterte’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, who, according to news reports, had called up lawmakers seeking their support to unseat Alvarez and install Arroyo as Speaker.
The plot was reportedly hatched on Sunday at Bonifacio Global City, where the plotters led by Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. planned their moves.
Mayor Duterte refused to comment on Tuesday on the coup.
“Congratulations to SPGMA. A strong leader” was her only response to reporters’ questions.
Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat Jr., a member of the opposition bloc, said there had been grumbling about Alvarez’s leadership style even in the past, but it was Alvarez’s tiff with Mayor Duterte that propelled the movement.
In February, the Davao mayor blasted Alvarez for supposedly calling her newly formed Hugpong ng Pagbabago regional party part of the opposition and for telling a crowd that he could impeach her father — charges the former Speaker denied.
“It started in Mindanao,” Baguilat said. “To my knowledge, it was the Mindanao bloc themselves that started it. Then you have Lakas (Arroyo’s former party), and the members from the North who support the Marcoses,” he said.
Alvarez, considered one of the most abrasive characters in the Duterte administration, was undone by unwise leadership decisions that antagonized his peers, Nograles said.
“Ultimately, it boiled down to a loss of trust and confidence,” he told the Inquirer.
Nograles, the chair of the powerful appropriations committee, said there was no specific thing that triggered the coup but dissatisfaction had grown over the past several months.
Alvarez, secretary general of the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), was known for cracking the whip on his peers who didn’t comply with party directions.
Last December, 24 lawmakers were deprived of infrastructure funding for not toeing the administration line or for political considerations.
In March 2017, 12 House leaders, including Arroyo, who was a deputy speaker then, were stripped of their positions for voting against the death penalty bill.
Alvarez also made powerful enemies.
He slapped graft charges against his former bosom buddy, Davao del Norte Rep. Antonio Floirendo Jr., one of the top campaign contributors of the President.
Alvarez supported Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas in the latter’s political feud with the Marcoses in Ilocos Norte.
“Everybody had their own issues [with him],” Nograles said. “The zero budget was an issue for some of them, so was the removal of chairmanships from those who voted against the death penalty [bill],” he said.
While Alvarez was making enemies, Arroyo was consolidating her forces.
Of the 184 who voted for her, several were her former Cabinet officials, including Andaya, who was her budget secretary, and Bohol Rep. Arthur Yap, who was her agriculture secretary.
Another close ally is Minority Leader Danilo Suarez, who has joined the new supermajority.
Alvarez did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
Caught by surprise
His ally, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, said the former Speaker should come to terms with what happened.
“It has probably dawned on him, and I think it’s just a matter of accepting the reality,” Umali said.
Umali said he believed Alvarez was caught by surprise.
“I doubt [he saw it coming]. And I think nobody saw it coming, because it happened fast… To my understanding, calls were made Sunday night, and that’s about it,” he said.
Rumors about a power grab had actually been circulating since late 2016, but nothing came to fruition until Monday.
Arroyo, according to Nograles, was the natural choice to replace Alvarez “because of her pedigree as a leader.”
Arroyo was the leader of the Lakas-Christian-Muslim Democrats before joining PDP-Laban in October.
“She once took our country to great heights, what more this august chamber of less than 300? Speaker Arroyo is a brilliant and astute leader who knows by heart the needs of the Filipino people, and this will translate into the law that we will help enact in the future,” he said.
Facing reporters on Monday, Arroyo said: “I’m really grateful to my colleagues for their trust and confidence in electing me as the Speaker.”
She also vowed to carry out the legislative agenda of President Duterte.
Ang Kabuhayan Rep. Dennis Laogan, who as the youngest House member administered Arroyo’s oath as Speaker, expressed “dismay” at how it was made to appear in the news and on social media that the Pampanga representative had been thirsting for the post.
“They make it appear that she was this power-hungry woman who just wants to be back in power,” he said.
“It’s tasteless and shameful because from what I know, it was the concerted effort of the majority of the House that wanted to have a new Speaker,” Laogan said. —With reports from Julie M. Aurelio, Germelina Lacorte and Frinston Lim