Speakership term-sharing shows coalition cracks, say lawmakers
MANILA, Philippines — The deal brokered by President Duterte for the sharing of the speakership by Representatives Alan Peter Cayetano and Lord Allan Velasco exposed widening cracks in the majority coalition, portending turbulent headwinds in the last three years of the Duterte House of Representatives, lawmakers said on Tuesday.
Various House factions on Tuesday adopted a grudging acceptance, as well as a wait-and-see attitude, toward the Cayetano-Velasco deal, as the top rivals for the post, except Cayetano, stayed silent a day after the President’s intervention.
Critics said the President’s belated endorsement of his former foreign secretary and vice-presidential running mate, who was unpopular with some House members but had the backing of the Cabinet economic cluster, was meant to tighten his hold on the House.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate had seen cracks early, in what he described on Tuesday as “the once supermajority coalition.”
War of dominance
“And, despite this term-sharing for convenience, the different factions and their political and economic backers are expected to still wage a war of dominance in the coming days, especially with the 2022 presidential elections already on the political horizon,” said the Makabayan bloc leader, who announced last week that he would also run for Speaker.
Zarate ridiculed the Cayetano-Velasco deal as Mr. Duterte’s “attempt to salvage his already fractious coalition and, hopefully, secure its survival until 2022.”
But Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr., a member of Cayetano’s Nacionalista Party, said he believed the coalition would stay intact despite the divisiveness of the speakership race.
“It is good for the alliance that he (Mr. Duterte) spoke up. Now we can all buckle down to work,” Villafuerte said in a phone interview.
Villafuerte said he couldn’t imagine any stirrings of rebellion among his peers.
“I really believe the people who were contending for the speakership are loyal supporters of the President and the coalition,” he said.
They’ll toe the line
Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, a PDP-Laban member who had been supporting Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, said Romualdez’s 72 supporters would toe the line.
“As I have said, we unanimously agreed to follow the wish of the President on the speakership and Martin is accepting the position of majority leader. He is accepting the mandate from us. The unanimous decision is no ifs, no buts, no unless, and no except. Congressman Romualdez will serve as majority leader for three years,” Salceda told reporters.
The 54-strong party-list coalition met on Tuesday and offered tentative support for the term-sharing agreement.
Rep. Michael Romero of 1-Pacman said the bloc would respect and adhere to Mr. Duterte’s wishes, with the caveat that this was their position “for now.”
The group had been split between Velasco and Romualdez.
The ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) issued a statement on Monday saying it respected the President’s choice.
“[O]ffhand, we fully respect the decision and wisdom of our party chairman, President Rodrigo Duterte. The PDP-Laban is still the majority party in Congress and will rigorously push for the legislative agenda of President Duterte,” party spokesperson Ron Munsayac said.
Not Duterte’s fault
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, the party president, on Tuesday defended Mr. Duterte’s intervention, saying it was not the President’s fault that lawmakers had sought him out to resolve the House leadership row.
Had Mr. Duterte not intervened, the election for Speaker on July 22 would have been “bloody,” Pimentel said, noting that the contenders had substantial support, though he believed Velasco had the numbers to clinch the post.
But the principal characters, except Cayetano, did not immediately express support for the agreement.
Velasco, the Marinduque representative and PDP-Laban candidate, did not issue any public statement.
Neither did Romualdez, president of Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats, who was rumored to have the widest support until Mr. Duterte stepped in.
Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, the candidate of the regional party Hugpong ng Pagbabago of Mr. Duterte’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, and the newly formed Duterte Coalition, also kept his own counsel.
How Cayetano prevailed
By securing Mr. Duterte’s endorsement, Cayetano overcame a strong lobby from the President’s children, Sara Duterte and Davao Rep. Paolo Duterte, who had both opposed a term-sharing agreement with Cayetano.
Paolo had even offered himself as a candidate but withdrew on his father’s instruction, while Sara fielded a last-minute candidate, Ungab, despite rumors she was privately rooting for Velasco.
So why did Cayetano prevail despite weak House support and opposition from the Duterte siblings?
His ally Villafuerte said the President’s word remained the ultimate game changer. “The President has spoken, so all this divisiveness will go away,” he said.
This wasn’t the first time that the House had been shaken by infighting over the speakership.
Last year, Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo staged a coup to wrest the leadership from then Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on the day Mr. Duterte was to address a joint session of Congress.
The President waited for hours until Arroyo, a former President of the Philippines, had knocked out Alvarez, who nevertheless was allowed to preside over the House’s joint session with the Senate to listen to Mr. Duterte’s speech, the State of the Nation.
Malacañang on Tuesday sought to ease concerns that the Cayetano-Velasco deal might lead to disruption of work on key measures in the House.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the incoming leaders of the House had assured President Duterte that business would run smoothly in the chamber.
But political analysts don’t see Congress delivering Mr. Duterte’s priority legislation over the next three years even though the President has supermajorities in both chambers.
“It’s a difficult battle because [President Duterte’s] term is ending in 2022, and supporting him will not give tremendous stake for politicians who are more interested in reelection,” said Rommel Banlaoi, president of Philippine Society for Intelligence and Security Studies.
Banlaoi pointed out that Mr. Duterte’s priorities — restoration of the death penalty and revising the Constitution for a shift to federalism — are divisive issues.
“Any politician running for reelection will not put his stake on the agenda of a President whose term is ending in 2022,” Banlaoi said.
Too much politics
Ado Paglinawan, a former diplomat, said he, too, was pessimistic about the prospects of the Duterte administration achieving its legislative priorities during the second half of its term.
“I am very pessimistic because there still lies the vested interest of many politicians down the line. Too much politics in the House will be very disastrous, [as] there is already too much politics in the Senate,” Paglinawan said.
Political analyst Ramon Casiple said the next 15 months of the Duterte administration would be crucial, with the President, riding on the momentum of his allies’ victory in May midterm elections, trying to push his legislative agenda.
“Federalism is not the main issue now [for Congress]. First is Charter change,” Casiple said. —With reports from Leila B. Salaverria, Julie M. Aurelio and Melvin Gascon
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