Roque: Duterte 'will understand' if Cayetano remains House speaker until December
In this file photo from July 2017, Duterte gives his State of the Nation Address at the Batasan Pambansa complex in Quezon City.
File photo
Roque: Duterte 'will understand' if Cayetano remains House speaker until December
Alexis Romero (Philstar.com) - September 23, 2020 - 6:26pm

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte would understand if House Speaker Alan Cayetano (Taguig) remains as head of the legislative chamber until December since Congress is still deliberating on next year's budget, Malacañang said Wednesday.

Under a term-sharing agreement brokered by Duterte, Cayetano would be House speaker until October 2020 while Rep. Lord Allan Velasco (Marinduque) would assume the post until June 2022.

A squabble over the House leadership, however, is threatening to derail the passage of the 2021 budget, which has been described as the government's biggest stimulus for the pandemic-struck economy.

"Kung magkagulo naman po, sana ay after the budget ‘no. Kasi sa original agreement naman, si Speaker Cayetano should be there until October ‘no (If a squabble happens, I hope it will happen after the budget deliberations. Under the original agreement, Speaker Cayetano should be there until October)," Roque said.

"But the president also in that same occasion told me na naiintindihan niya kung kinakailangang hanggang Disyembre siguro ‘no dahil nga doon sa issue ng budget (that he understands if Cayetano needs to remain there until December because of the budget)," presidential spokesman Harry Roque told CNN Philippines.

"Even if the budget is approved by the House, when it reaches the (bicameral conference committee), it can be changed by the new members of the bicam representing the House, which could further delay the budget," he added.

Roque: Velasco should have the numbers

Roque previously said Duterte is hopeful that the term-sharing deal would be honored. Roque, however, has also admitted that the president cannot do anything if Velasco does not have the numbers to make him the House speaker.

"So I suppose the bottom line is this, the president leaves to the members of the House to choose their leaders, acknowledging that there was a gentleman’s agreement between Congressmen Cayetano and Velasco which should be binding on both of them," the Palace spokesman said.

"But whatever the decision of the members of the House would be, it's non-negotiable that the budget should be passed on time because the budget contains P2.5 trillion of stimulus package which we badly need at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. So now more than ever, the president is not willing to negotiate on the fact that the budget should be passed on time by December," he added.

Roque said while the term-sharing agreement is valid on Cayetano and Velasco, it does not necessarily bind other House members.

"You know, Congressman Lord Allan, I suppose, by way of advice from the president, better have the numbers too. And after a year and a half, as I said, the members of Congress should know better on who is best to lead them," he added. 

READ: Duterte endorsement shreds semblance of House independence, solons say

When Duterte announced in 2019 that he had brokered a term-sharing agreement between Cayetano and Velasco, members of the Makabayan bloc — formerly with the House supermajority bloc but in the opposition since bolting in September 2017 — warned that allowing the deal "shamelessly pontificates a rubber stamp lower house in tandem with a Duterte-dominated Senate."

But for one political analyst, Duterte’s endorsement of a shared speakership would not have any implications on congressional independence, which he said has never existed anyway.

"The House of Representatives has always conformed to the wishes of Malacañang. So there's no congressional independence to speak of," Dennis Coronacion, chairperson of the Political Science department of the University of Santo Tomas, told Philstar.com in a 2019 interview.

"It goes without saying that the speaker of the House is the anointed one of Malacañang," he also said.

ALAN PETER CAYETANO HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES LORD ALLAN VELASCO
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