Duterte’s cryptic remark on speakership term-sharing may split chamber
MANILA, Philippines — “Kawawa naman si Lord (pitiful Lord).”
President Duterte made this cryptic remark in reference to the term-sharing deal between Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco on Wednesday night during his meeting with House and Senate leaders at Malacañang, the Inquirer learned on Friday.
But the comment was interpreted differently by those in the room.
A source close to Cayetano told the Inquirer that the Speaker was elated at Duterte’s comment and took it as an endorsement of his continued reign as the leader of the House of Representatives.
But a second source who was in the meeting said Duterte’s remarks could be interpreted to favor Velasco instead. “It could be gleaned the other way, ‘how pitiful if you don’t do what was agreed upon,” he said.
Another protracted battle
Without a clear signal from Duterte, the 300-member House looks headed for another protracted battle for the speakership that may once again split the chamber into factions and derail the passage of next year’s budget.
A showdown has already started between the two camps as their allies traded barbs over questionable public works allocations in the 2021 budget, allegedly favoring the districts of pro-Cayetano lawmakers, including Cayetano and Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr.
Per the original “15-21 deal,” the Taguig lawmaker is supposed to serve as Speaker for only 15 months while the Marinduque solon will take over for the remaining 21 months. The turnover is supposed to take place in October or early November.
But the President’s ambiguous comment on Wednesday night had raised hopes within the Cayetano camp.
Cayetano belongs to the Nacionalista Party while Velasco is with the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan.
“Of course he (Cayetano) was happy. He has always been a team player, and it came straight from the President himself,” the Inquirer source said by phone.
By contrast, the source said the President could not even recall Velasco’s name, only the nickname of his wife, Rowena Velasco.
There were four people in the room: the President, Cayetano, House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Sen. Christopher Lawrence Go.
‘I’d rather not meddle’
Sotto confirmed in a separate Viber message that Duterte spoke about pitying Velasco and mixing up his name with somebody else.
“To my recollection, [Romualdez] mentioned that the congressmen are happy with the leadership of Speaker Cayetano,” he said.
“I’d rather not meddle in their issue but I’m only saying what I recollect,” the Senate leader told the Inquirer.
The Inquirer reached out to Velasco’s camp for comment but did not get an immediate response.
Speakership rivalries have been known to complicate or delay the passage of the budget, which is considered by many as the most crucial function of Congress.
In 2018, the approval of the 2019 budget was delayed for several months as a result of last-minute insertions by the new House leadership under then Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who had staged a coup against Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez.
The President finally signed the 2019 budget in April 2019 but vetoed P95.3 billion worth of funds inserted by House lawmakers.
The approval of the 2020 budget was smoother under a Cayetano speakership. The President did not veto items but he tasked his budget managers to review P84 billion worth of congressional insertions before releasing them to the lawmakers’ districts.
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