Political rift may be behind Barbers-Pichay spat
A political rift that goes back to the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo may have been behind the rift between Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert “Ace” Barbers and Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay Jr.
This was revealed by Pichay in an interview over Radyo Inquirer on Thursday, following a heated debate about Charter change that almost came to blows between him and Barbers.
On Wednesday, the hearing of the House of Representatives constitutional amendments committee was cut short following a word war between Barbers and Pichay that almost escalated to a fist fight.
The conflict started when Pichay opposed a motion of Deputy Speaker Cebu Rep. Gwen Garcia to recommend to the plenary the constituent assembly (con-ass) as a mode of Charter change.
Pichay said the Senate should be invited first about Garcia’s motion, because the 1987 Constitution clearly stated that it is Congress, not just the House of Representatives, which could amend the Charter.
Pichay also said there was no explicit word “con-ass” in the Constitution, which Barbers found “senseless” and “stupid.”
“This is a point of order. Let us not be entertaining senseless motions, those are stupid motions. Let’s not pretend to be constitutionalists here,” Barbers said.
The hearing was suspended after solons argued over the issue.
While the hearing was suspended, Barbers walked all the way to the seat of Pichay at the other side of table, and started pointing his fingers at him.
“P***** i** mo?” Barbers was heard as saying, tapping Pichay on the shoulder.
“Anong problema mo? P***** i** mo rin,” Pichay shot back.
Pichay then stood up and almost grabbed Barbers if not for Pangasinan Rep. Marlyn Primicias-Agabas, who broke up what could have been a nasty scuffle in the middle of a House committee hearing.
The two congressmen were also pointing fingers and glowering at each other before the security separated the two.
End of Barbers dynasty
In the radio interview, Pichay admitted that he put up the Matugas and Romarates against Barbers and the latter’s brother former governor Lyndon Barbers in the 2007 elections.
“Ako, wala akong galit sa kaniya. Siya lang ang may galit sa akin, kasi I think in 2007 elections, I put up candidates against them,” Pichay said.
(I have no gripe against him. He’s the one who is mad at me because, I think, in the 2007 elections, I put up candidates against them.)
Pichay said he pitted candidates against the Barbers clan following Ace Barbers’ refusal to toe the line as member of the then ruling party Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats when he signed the failed impeachment complaint against then president Arroyo.
“Ako yung chairman ng Lakas sa Caraga (I was the chairman of Lakas in Caraga). And since he signed an impeachment complaint against GMA, ibig sabihin (meaning), they no longer had the confidence of the president,” Pichay, Arroyo’s long time ally, said.
In 2007, former Surigao del Norte governor Lyndon lost his congressional bid against Guillermo Romarate Jr., while Ace won his gubernatorial bid.
It was in 2010 that the Barbers political rule in Surigao del Norte officially ended after Ace lost his reelection bid to Sol Matugas, and Lyndon his mayoralty bid to Ernesto Matugas.
Surigao del Norte was the bailiwick of the Barbers, before the patriarch former congressman and senator Robert Barbers died of heart attack in 2005.
Ace vied for the second district congressional bid in 2013 but lost to Romarate, who finished his three terms until 2016. Ace only regained the seat in 2016 after beating Mary Anne Lucille.
Meanwhile, Sol won her reelection bid in 2013 against Lyndon. Sol again won her reelection bid in the 2016 elections against Guillermo Romarate.
Ace was known as a member of the “Spice Boys” in Congress who called for the impeachment of then president Joseph Estrada. Ace served as Surigao del Norte Rep. for three terms from 1998 to 2007.
Pichay said his maneuvering that ended the Barbers political clan happened a long time ago and that the political rift was not a justification for Barbers to curse at him during the Charter change hearing.
“Nanalo si Congressman Romarate (Congressman Romarate won) against Lyndon Barbers. Then in 2010, nanalo yung kandidato namin as governor (our candidate won against Ace). Siguro yun ang kinagalit niya (Perhaps that’s the reason behind his gripe),” Pichay said.
“Politics lang yan. Ang tagal na yun. Edi kung galit ka sa akin, lagyan mo rin ako ng kalaban. Walang problema sa akin,” Pichay added.
(It’s only politics. That happened a long time ago. If you’re mad at me, then give me a rival, too. Not a problem with me.)
Pichay said Barbers should not take his defeat personally.
“Nanalo muna siya 2007 for governor, then after that, natalo na siya. Kaya ngayon lang siya bumalik. But why should you take it personally? Hindi naman ako nagtalo sayo, kundi ang taumbayan. Eh magkampaniya ka lang ng mabuti,” Pichay said.
(He won in 2007 for governor, then after that, he lost. That’s why he’s only back now. But why should he take it personally? I wasn’t the one who made you lose, it was the people. If only you had campaigned well.)
Pichay has said he planned to file an ethics complaint against Barbers.
He said his fight with Barbers should not divert the more pressing issue of Charter change at the House.
“Yung behavior niya was unbecoming… Hindi naman gagaling yung Constitution sa away, kundi sa exchange of ideas,” Pichay said.
(His behavior was unbecoming…The fight did not spring from the Constitution but in the exchange of ideas.)
Pichay said it was Barbers who started cursing at him, which only showed how “immature” Barbers was. Television reports however showed that Pichay also cursed at Barbers.
“Ang layo layo niya, lumapit siya dun at nagmumura. (Sabi niya), nagpapanggap ka na eksperto sa Constitution. Sabi ko, ang pinag-uusapan natin ang Saligang Batas, sino ba mag-a-amend ng Saligang Batas kundi tayo kung con-ass yan. Eh di dapat mag-aral ka kung hindi mo alam!” Pichay said.
“Lumapit sa akin at nagmumura. Alam mo yung pag-ikot niya roon at magmura, he was trying to show that he was very immature… Yung Kongreso, nirerespeto natin yan na institusyon, pero kung ang mga congressman kagaya niya, bababa ang pagtingin ng tao diyan, mawawala ang tiwala ng tao diyan,” Pichay added.
(He was so far from me, he even came close and cursed at me. He said I was pretending to be an expert on the Constitution. I said we’re talking about the Constitution, and who amends the Constitution but us if it’s con-ass. You should study if you don’t know.
You approached me and cursed. What he did, he was trying to show that he was very immature. We respect the Congress as an institution, but if the congressmen are like him, how the people see it will change. it will lose the trust of the people.)
In an interview with INQUIRER.net on Wednesday, Oct 19, Barbers denied the claim of Pichay that he has not yet moved on from their political rift in Surigao.
Barbers said there is no truth to Pichay’s accusations that he wielded influence in the Surigao Del Norte politics to field candidates against the Barbers political clan.
“Feeling ko lang nag-i-imagine siya na (I feel like he’s imagining that) he’s the kingpin, which is not, because all those candidates that run against us, hindi naman niya kontrolado mga yun… Wala siyang stronghold sa amin (he was not in control of them. He has no stronghold in Surigao Del Norte),” Barbers said.
Asked if Surigao Del Norte is back in the hands of the Barbers, the congressman said his family never claimed the province is their bailiwick.
“Never did we claim Surigao is ours. Hindi kami kasing yabang ng isa diyan (We are not as cocky as him). He claims to be a kingpin of Caraga. He can’t even control Surigao Del Sur, because he is not the political king there,” Barbers said.
Barbers also denied Pichay’s claim he was being immature, countering that he was only exasperated with the stupidity of Pichay’s statements, and with the “bullying” Pichay was doing to the other members.
“If that is immaturity, I am just exasperated with his stupidity.. Nakita mo naman (You can see) how he dominates when he was trying to dominate the proceedings. He was overpowering the other members who wished to make a comment,” Barbers said.
Barbers said there is no issue for him to move on from because Pichay never made a dent on his political career.
“There’s no reason for me to move on after that, because obviously he did not make a dent in the history of politics in Surigao Del Norte. He is a nobody,” Barbers said.
Barbers told Pichay that both of them should face each other instead to settle the political rift.
“Tapos ako pa ang immature (Then all of a sudden, I’m the immature one). At the end of the day, this is an old issue. If there is something that has to be settled, it has be settled between him and me. We will not involve the House,” Barbers said.
As to Pichay’s claim he fielded candidates against Barbers, the Surigao Del Norte congressman said: “Keep on dreaming, boy.”
But in an earlier statement, Barbers said he was “man enough” to apologize for the “embarrassing” situation on Wednesday.
He said he would leave his fate to the decision of House leaders Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and majority floor leader Rudy Fariñas, who both expressed disappointment at the demeanor of the two congressmen.
“I submit to the guidance of our Speaker and House Majority Leader for a peaceful resolution of that embarrassing incident that occurred yesterday,” Barbers said
“I am man enough to admit my mistakes and in fact apologized publicly and to the Honorable members of the committee and the House, if my actions are uncalled for and an affront to the institution. I am again sorry,” he added.
Pichay and Barbers’ fight stemmed from a heated debate over the mode of charter change during the House committee hearing Wednesday. The lawmakers were debating over the two modes of charter change – constituent assembly (con-ass) and constitutional convention (con-con).
The House constitutional amendments committee is tackling 26 bills for charter change following the call of President Duterte for Congress to convene in an assembly to propose amendments to the charter, particularly changing the form of government from unitary to federal parliamentary.
Duterte has preferred con-ass, or the mode of charter change under Section 1, Article 17 of the Constitution allowing Congress upon a vote of three votes of its members to propose amendments to the Charter. CDG/RAM
(Originally published Oct. 13, 2016 3:21 p.m.)
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