President Duterte chats with speakership race dark horse and Leyte congressman-elect Martin Romualdez on their way to the Philippine Army’s 8th Infantry Division at Camp Gen. Vicente Lukban in Catbalogan City, Samar yesterday. Accompanying the President were senator-elect Bong Go and presidential adviser for the Visayas Michael Dino.
Duterte steps into contest for House speakership
Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) - June 20, 2019 - 12:00am

Choice known next week

MANILA, Philippines — After saying he would stay out of the issue, President Duterte has decided after all to endorse someone for speaker of the House of Representatives.

 Duterte, titular head of the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) party, will announce his choice next week.

He made the commitment during a dinner on Tuesday night at Malacañang hosted by his son, incoming Davao City Rep. Paolo “Pulong” Duterte, for more than 130 House members belonging to the PDP-Laban, Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) and the 54-member Party-list Coalition (PLC) led by Rep. Mikee Romero of 1-Pacman.

The President chatted with his lawmaker-allies up to 3:30 a.m. yesterday and sang his favorites “Ikaw” and “To All the Girls I Loved Before” to the delight of his son’s guests, many of them neophytes like Paolo.

Reelected Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, one of three speaker aspirants from PDP-Laban, attended the dinner. He and his wife are reportedly close friends of Paolo and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.

Another aspirant from the ruling party, Rep. Aurelio Gonzales Jr. of Pampanga, was also present.

A member of the House who was present at the Palace dinner told The STAR that the President asked to be given until Friday next week to announce his candidate for speaker.

“But since there are many of you who are here, I already know who is my candidate. I just have to talk to the losers who are also my friends,” he quoted Duterte as telling them, although the President did not name names.

PDP-Laban leaders have been trying to convince Duterte to endorse a speaker aspirant from their ranks, arguing that a House leader from another political party could go against him during his remaining three years in office.

Boxing champion Sen. Manny Pacquiao met with him Thursday last week in General Santos City to get a sense of his preference.

Gonzales or Velasco?

Several attendees at the Palace dinner said Paolo limited his invitations to members of PDP-Laban, NPC and the Romero’s PLC. Aside from Velasco and Gonzales, no other speaker aspirant was invited, they said.

“By their body language, Pulong and the President seem to be rooting for Lord,” another lawmaker said, referring to Velasco.

The administration party, NPC and PLC are forging an alliance to capture the House leadership. They have a combined membership of 165 to 170, more than the majority needed to elect the next speaker and officers of the chamber.

A PDP-Laban member said the ruling party is offering concessions to its prospective allies, including the position of majority leader to the PLC.

He said NPC is a natural ally of Velasco “because Lord and his wife are close friends of RSA,” referring to billionaire businessman Ramon Ang, president and chief executive officer of food and beverage giant San Miguel Corp., whose chairman Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. founded NPC in 1992 and remains as its chairman emeritus.

Sources said Velasco is trying to woo other political parties, including the National Unity Party, which groups former Lakas members who have endorsed incoming Taguig Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano for speaker.

Velasco told his supporters during Tuesday night’s dinner that he would not agree to share his three-year term if he is elected speaker.

According to Cayetano, he has discussed term sharing with his colleague from Marinduque.

Velasco’s allies are also against term sharing.

“Lord and I will not agree to it. It will just disrupt the legislative process. Changing the speaker midstream will also mean replacing committee chairmen and other officers,” Gonzales said.

Rep. Lito Atienza of party-list group Buhay said splitting the speaker’s tenure “is not practical and not effective.”

“It will bloat the egos of the aspirants at the cost of the nation’s welfare,” he said.

Velasco’s rivals, including come-backing Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, are hoping the President would remain neutral in the speakership race.

At least 126 incumbent and incoming House members have signed a manifesto of support for Romualdez, who is president of Lakas, the ruling party during the administration of former president and Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Romualdez’s supporters claim he would handily win in a free-for-all.

Meanwhile, Paolo said he was thankful to the Presidential Management Staff for helping him organize the dinner.

Paolo also said Velasco helped him in the preparations and inviting newly elected House members, including a number of party-list representatives.

He told those at the Palace dinner that only two House members are considered serious contenders for speaker. – With Edith Regalado

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