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October 14, 2020

Velasco’s Election As Speaker Shows How Easily Congressmen Can Switch Sides; Cayetano, Left Empty-Handed, Resigns

Velasco’s Election As Speaker Shows How Easily Congressmen Can Switch Sides; Cayetano, Left Empty-Handed, Resigns Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco presides over a session for the first time on Oct. 13, 2020 following the ratification of his election as new speaker of the House of Representatives. Photo by Michael Varcas, The Philippine STAR

All the while Taguig Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano thought there was no need for him to honor the term-sharing agreement with Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, since his resignation as speaker was rejected by 184 members of the House of Representatives on Sept. 30.

Cayetano then moved to suspend session until Nov. 16 and on Tuesday, Oct. 13, had the doors of the House plenary hall locked so Velasco and his allies could not officially elect a new speaker.

But there was nothing more Cayetano could do. He resigned after more than 200 House members “ratified” the election of Velasco last Monday as their new leader, forgetting about their earlier rejection of Cayetano’s resignation. There are currently only 299 House members, thus Cayetano and Velasco could not both claim to have close to 200 supporters each.

Was Cayetano double-crossed after supposedly “fooling” Velasco and President Duterte, who brokered the deal between the two in July 2019? Sources said the President’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio called up congressmen to support Velasco after their meeting on Friday evening, Oct. 9.

On Monday, Oct. 12, Velasco and his allies held a rump assembly at the Celebrity Sports Plaza in Quezon City to unseat Cayetano. It was the first day of the showdown, which continued on Tuesday as Velasco’s supporters forced open the House plenary hall to hold session.

Representatives Arnie Teves (Negros Oriental), Ismael Mangudadatu (Maguindanao), Bem Noel (An Waray), Wes Gatchalian (Valenzuela City), Bernadette Herrera (Bagong Henerasyon), Doy Leachon (Oriental Mindoro) and Koko Nograles (PBA) worked their way to enter the plenary hall.

Presided over by Rep. Conrado Estrella of Abono party-list, and with Pampanga Rep. Juan Pablo Bondoc as House majority leader, Velasco’s allies formalized his election as speaker.

“Let us show our countrymen that loyalty and fidelity to the promises we make are not mere conveniences for us. Let us be good examples of palabra de honor, and demonstrate that our word is our bond,” Velasco said at the podium where he read his speech on his cell phone.

Leaders of political parties and power blocs reassured Velasco of their support, which they initially declared at the Celebrity Sports Plaza, among them the Nationalist People’s Coalition, PDP-Laban, Party-list Coalition Foundation Inc. and the Liberal Party.

“In behalf of the 50-strong Party-list Coalition Foundation, we congratulate and reaffirm our support for your leadership. Congratulations!” Rep. Mike Romero of 1-Pacman party-list, who was removed by Cayetano as House deputy speaker last week, said.

“Thank you for being the House leader that inspires, and not somebody that divides this House. A Speaker who is not a tyrant, and who will work for the interests of the House members who are representatives of the Filipino people,” Leachon of PDP-Laban stated.

The once-powerful Lakas-CMD, now headed by House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, has reportedly shifted its support and allegiance to the leadership of Velasco. The Leyte congressman will reportedly get to keep his post.

Herrera, a deputy majority leader, lamented the machinations by Cayetano’s camp in refusing them entry, saying every House member “should be able to enter the Batasan complex, the House of the people, without the need to ask for permission from anyone.”

“It is within the rights of the duly elected representatives of the Filipino people to have full and unobstructed access to the Batasan complex and to be physically present at the plenary hall for the resumption of the unconstitutionally suspended session,” she said.

Cayetano gives up

Cayetano finally relinquished his post even as he vowed to keep up the fight.

“I love this institution. I’ve been here since 1998. I’ve faced many Goliaths,” he warned Velasco’s supporters, whom he described as “saboteurs.” “If you are bent on destroying and burning down the House, I will not allow you to burn this House down. Remember that.”

“If you try to burn this House down, you’re in for one hell of a fight,” Cayetano declared.

But later, in a post on his personal Facebook account, Cayetano announced his resignation.

“From the start I have always said that I will abide by what the President, as leader of our coalition, will say,” he wrote. “Today, given the untenable political situation that Congress has been placed, and the possible damage to the country if the 2021 budget is not passed on time – I take his admonition to put aside all politics and focus on the budget to heart, and with this, tender my irrevocable resignation as Speaker effective immediately.”

Cayetano also said in a press statement that he was leaving his post “with a clear conscience.”

“I have done my best, I have given my all, I leave with no regrets, and I hold no rancor in my heart towards anyone,” the former senator and one-time foreign affairs secretary added.

Cayetano earlier described Velasco’s election as “illegal and unprecedented,” quoting his ally San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora in the latter’s interview over a radio station.

“It’s hard to say that the session at the Celebrity Sports Plaza was authorized. We have to be in session because of the proclamation of the President of a special session. Changing the speaker requires nominal voting. Votes and manifesto are needed for it to be valid. The voting should take place in a session,” Zamora said.

Meeting with the President

After the tug-of-war over the speakership was settled, Cayetano and Velasco met with Duterte and agreed to set aside their political differences to work on the “timely passage” of the P 4.5-trillion national budget for 2021.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque confirmed that Duterte’s meeting with Velasco and Cayetano pushed through in the early afternoon on Tuesday following the ratification of Velasco’s election as Speaker.

“In the course of the meeting, the two representatives agreed to work together as one majority in order to ensure the timely passage of the 2021 budget and other priority legislation of the Duterte administration,” Roque announced.

Also present at the meeting, which was meant to stop the administration allies from bickering, were Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Sen. Christopher Go.

Earlier in the afternoon, Roque reiterated that the President had left the selection of the House leader to its members as mandated by law.

“We respect the wish of the members of the House of Representatives on who will be their speaker… and if it is true that it has been ratified, then so be it,” Roque said, referring to Velasco’s election.

Roque maintained that the President did not have a hand in the leadership row, citing the case of Avelino versus Cuenco wherein the Supreme Court ruled that only the members of the House and the Senate can determine their leadership.

“Good luck to those elected and congratulations to those elected by their peers in the House of Representatives,” Roque said, referring to Velasco and his supporters.

Roque also thanked Cayetano for his leadership of the chamber for the past 15 months.

Last Thursday, Duterte went on national television and appealed to the congressmen to settle their differences to avoid derailing the approval of the budget.

On Friday, Duterte called a special session from Oct. 13 to 16 and certified as urgent the 2021 General Appropriations Bill to counter Cayetano’s move to suspend the session until Nov. 16. Cayetano bowed to the President’s order to hold the special session as he tried to protect his position.

“All is well. Parang tatay si Tatay Digong kinausap mga anak nya. Pinagpayuhan na magkaisa. One majority and pass the budget on time para sa sambayanang Pilipino (Tatay Digong was like a father speaking to his children. He advised them to unite into one majority and pass the budget on time for the Filipino nation),” Go told reporters via a messaging app.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto thanked Cayetano for his “short but spectacular” stint in the House.

“This is just a pit stop in Alan’s long career. He will be back – I doubt if he’ll ever leave the political scene as a leading voice. It will be ages before we will come to read the requiem for this heavyweight. Not today,” Recto said in a statement.

“I am writing this to thank him for his service to the nation as House leader. Old school it may sound, but in this age when the new is hailed and the old is forgotten, I believe that the courtesy of appreciating the good a person had done should continue as an honored tradition,” Recto added.

He said Cayetano passed all the bills Malacañang had requested, plus those that were products of the House’s policy ingenuity.

While Cayetano, a former senator, has left the Senate, he has been constantly in touch with his former colleagues in the “smaller but smarter” chamber.

Recto said Cayetano is always welcome in the Senate, and the polls show that it will be a walk in the park for him in the 2022 elections.

When Cayetano accepted the “demotion” from senator to foreign affairs secretary, he made it a point to be always accessible, wherever he was in the world, Recto noted. He said he referred many overseas Filipino workers in distress to Cayetano, who made it a point to personally attend to all of them.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the House has its work cut out for it – immediately passing the proposed P4.5 trillion national budget for 2021 and transmitting this to the other chamber.

 “All the House has to do is approve the budget on third reading, then print and submit to us regardless of who the speaker is,” Sotto told reporters.

 During the Palace briefing, Budget Secretary Wendell Avisado cited the importance of passing the 2021 budget on time since it contains the government’s response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis.

 With the House leadership issue settled, Avisado expressed hope that there would be no more hindrance to the chamber’s approval of the budget by Oct. 16.

 “We are happy that the leadership issue has been resolved, because we discussed this (Monday) night (during the Cabinet meeting) and we agreed that we cannot afford a reenacted budget at this time, especially that we are facing the challenge of this pandemic,” Avisado said.

 The first order of business for the House under Velasco was to return the budget bill to plenary debates.

 House Deputy Speaker Aurelio “Dong” Gonzales Jr., who presided over the first day of the four-day special session, approved the motions of Bondoc to “reconsider” the termination of budget deliberations for agencies.

 The second reading approval of House Bill (HB) No. 7727 was invalidated.

 Bondoc clarified that the current status of HB 7727 is that it is now “under sponsorship and debate,” in compliance with Duterte’s Proclamation No. 1027 providing for a special session from Oct. 13 to 16 for purposes of approving the measure.

 This developed as Davao City 1st District Rep. Paolo Duterte – who resigned as deputy speaker – was appointed as the new chairman of the House committee on accounts, replacing Cavite Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino who held the post since July 2019.

 The chamber decided to go back to plenary debates following the failure of Cayetano’s leadership to deliberate on the budget of crucial agencies such as the Department of Public Works and Highways, wherein Negros Oriental Rep. Arnie Teves questioned hefty allocations for Cayetano and his staunch allies.

 Budget deliberations have been stalled for 26 government offices including the Departments of Education, Health, Social Welfare and Development, the Interior and Local Government, Tourism, and Agrarian Reform as well as the Office of the Vice President.

 The House minority bloc led by Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr. has been looking forward to scrutinizing the spending measure, which became a casualty in the squabble between the camps of Cayetano and Velasco.

 “As we move forward, we hope to work with our colleagues to quickly and thoroughly thresh out the details of the national budget, conscious of our mandate to come up with an appropriations measure that addresses the adverse impact of the pandemic on the lives of our countrymen,” the minority congressmen said.

 Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, chairman of the House ways and means committee, said the House under Velasco would be a “bridge to the future” as he noted that Congress would be on the “fast lane for modernizing reforms” under a new House leader.

 “The new Speaker is a workhorse, not a show-horse. He has very little appetite for political theatrics, and that attitude will spill over to us in his leadership team,” Salceda said.

 According to him, Velasco will “bring youth, energy and dynamic curiosity to House leadership.”

 “This is a young country, so it is apt that we are led by someone who has the benefit of both youth and experience,” Salceda said. “Most of us in the leadership team will be older than the Speaker. Our attitudes and views are constrained by the past. The new Speaker will keep reminding us to look to the future.”

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