Hugpong endorses Ungab over Velasco for Speaker
MANILA, Philippines — From out of the blue, a new dark horse has entered the field of aspirants in the increasingly unpredictable speakership race.
In a surprising development on Wednesday, the regional Hugpong ng Pagbabago party of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, the President’s daughter, endorsed Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab as the next Speaker, a day after the President’s son, Davao City Rep. Paolo Duterte, said he was interested in the post.
Hugpong also asked the three main contenders for the speakership to settle for other leadership positions in the House majority.
“We suggest that [Taguig Rep.] Alan Peter Cayetano take the majority leader position, [Marinduque Rep.] Lord Allan Velasco to take the appropriations committee and [Leyte Rep.] Martin Romualdez to head the accounts committee,” Hugpong said in a statement.
Hugpong’s announcement came as a shock to House observers considering widespread speculation that the President’s daughter had been privately lobbying for Velasco, a close friend of the Duterte family.
A returning House member who headed the powerful appropriations panel during the previous Aquino administration, Ungab had not been mentioned as a candidate for Speaker until Wednesday.
Misgivings on Paolo’s bid
Ungab is “a four-term congressman and the only lawmaker to hold the chairmanships of both ways and means and appropriations committees,” Hugpong said.
The party acknowledged the misgivings expressed by certain quarters, including the President himself, about the propriety of Paolo Duterte assuming the Speaker’s post while his father was President.
Paolo announced on Tuesday that he might also vie for the speakership, saying: “The House is divided, I might be able to help unite it.”
“We understand if President Duterte, because of delicadeza, will not accept the intent of our brother from Hugpong sa Tawong Lungsod, Congressman Paolo Duterte, to resolve the conflict among candidates,” Hugpong said.
“Therefore, we are endorsing the bid of Congressman Isidro Ungab for Speaker,” it said.
The President has refused to endorse any candidate, though he earlier said he had been prodding Cayetano and Velasco to agree to a term-sharing agreement. Velasco reportedly backed out at the last minute.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, who earlier announced he would also run for Speaker as leader of the opposition Makabayan bloc, said Hugpong’s use of its growing influence to pick a candidate for Speaker was a blow to more established political parties.
Zarate also said Hugpong’s endorsement of Ungab showed that the House ruling coalition was headed for a breakup.
“The Duterte coalition mirror does not lie: Widening cracks are now very apparent … ” he said.
But Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice said it might be best to let all the contenders “slug it out and may the best man win.”
The next Speaker will be elected when the 18th Congress opens on July 22.
Waiting for President’s word
Romualdez said he respected Hugpong’s endorsement of Ungab, but he would still wait for the President’s word.
“We respect [Hugpong]’s endorsement of its speakership candidate. However, we will await the President’s final say on the matter,” Romualdez, the leader of Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats, said in a statement.
“Going back to the President’s last statement on June 27, he maintained his neutrality in the speakership race,” he said.
Ungab said on Wednesday he would abide by Hugpong’s decision to field him as its candidate.
“I am deeply honored [by] the endorsement as House Speaker. I am a good soldier under the command of every Filipino. I am ready, willing and capable to serve in any capacity,” he said in a statement. —With reports from Melvin Gascon and Jeoffrey Maitem