Polong-led bloc wants say in speakership
A group of Mindanao-based lawmakers have banded together and called themselves the Duterte Coalition in a bid to influence the race for the speakership, less than three weeks before the opening of the 18th Congress.
Led by President Duterte’s son, Davao City Rep. Paolo “Polong” Duterte, and Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, who was named this week as the candidate of the regional Hugpong ng Pagbabago party, the group called for unity in the House of Representatives amid the fierce lobbying and jockeying for the top position in the 300-member chamber.
Message to Cabinet men
The other members of the coalition are Representatives Vincent Garcia of Davao City, Corazon Malanyaon of Davao Oriental, Manuel Zamora of Compostela Valley, Lorna Bautista of Davao Occidental, Claudine Bautista of Dumper-PTDA party list, and Sandro Gonzales and Anton Lopez of Marino party list.
In a statement on Friday, the group also appealed to certain members of the Cabinet after media reports said that they “have their bet for Speaker.”
“Everyone should note that Cabinet members serve only on the basis of the trust and confidence of the President and should not participate in the selection of the Speaker,” it said.
The group was responding to reports saying that three Cabinet members were lobbying for a “term-sharing” deal among the candidates for Speaker. Under the supposed deal, Taguig Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano would be the first to assume the House leadership.
But Malacañang on Friday denied that the President’s top aides were meddling in House affairs.
“Certainly not true,” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo told reporters.
The President, Panelo said, remained firm that he would not endorse any candidate for Speaker, “hence it behooves on the members of the Cabinet to toe the line.”
The Duterte Coalition statement did not name the group’s official candidate, although Paolo earlier this week expressed interest in the speakership, while Hugpong, the regional party led by his sister, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, announced it was backing Ungab for Speaker.
Ungab confirmed he was part of the new group, but did not say who between him and Paolo would run for Speaker.
“Yes, I am part of the Duterte Coalition. Let us wait for Congressman Paolo Duterte to issue and make his statement regarding this matter,” he told the Inquirer in a text message.
Call for partnership
The coalition also offered itself as an ally to the three main candidates for Speaker.
“A special call to be a partner is extended to Congressmen Ferdinand Martin Romualdez (of Leyte), Alan Peter Cayetano (of Taguig) and Lord Allan Jay Velasco (of Marinduque),” it said.
Romualdez and Velasco said they welcomed the formation of the new group and pledged support for the President’s legislative agenda.
“I join hands with the Duterte Coalition in establishing a House of Representatives that truly reflects the will of our people,” Romualdez said. “Also, I fully subscribe to the position of the Duterte Coalition that congressmen be given the freedom to elect their own leaders in the House of Representatives based on the dictates of their conscience and in accordance with the wishes of their constituents.”
“Let every speakership aspirant subject himself to the scrutiny of his peers, who shall be the ultimate judge on who shall be the primus inter pares. May the best man win,” Romualdez added.
Velasco said he welcomed the coalition’s objective of uniting the House and promoting “a strategic partnership between and among public servants who are deeply committed to institute reforms for better governance and development.”
“I am one with the call and aspirations of the newly formed coalition and implore my fellow lawmakers in Congress to set aside their personal ambitions and agenda, and join the Duterte Coalition so together we can build a House of Representatives that is united and stronger, a House that truly represents the people,” he said.
The next Speaker is set to be elected at the opening of the 18th Congress on July 22.
“Let us draw the line to define the independence of the executive and the legislative branches of the government,” the coalition said.
“We have created the Duterte Coalition and we wish to invite everyone to join this group of lawmakers who believe in positive change,” it added. —WITH A REPORT FROM JULIE M. AURELIO
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