Velasco firm on term-sharing agreement
Releasing a statement the other night, Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco said: “I have been silent during the duration of the gentleman’s agreement in deference and respect to the sitting Speaker. My silence does not mean I am disinterested nor have I turned my back on the covenant.”
Lord Allan Jay Velasco/Facebook
Velasco firm on term-sharing agreement
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - September 24, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco might have been silent recently, but he is dead set on taking his place as speaker of the House of Representatives next month.

Releasing a statement the other night, Velasco said: “I have been silent during the duration of the gentleman’s agreement in deference and respect to the sitting Speaker. My silence does not mean I am disinterested nor have I turned my back on the covenant.”

He was referring to the term-sharing agreement brokered by President Duterte in July 2019 for him to succeed Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano after 15 months.

Recently, an alleged plot to oust the Speaker was attributed by Cayetano to Velasco’s camp, which the Marinduque congressman has denied.

Velasco, known to have close ties with the President and his children, said he only opted to remain silent on the speakership issue and allegations hurled against him so as not to call attention to himself.

“Being party to the term-sharing agreement, one does not and should not seek to compete with the current Speaker as a gentleman’s agreement is in force. We will have our turn at the right time,“ he said.

Velasco also denied the claim of Cayetano’s allies that he is not fit to lead Congress because he has not been active during the major issues that faced members of the House.

“Since I became a lawmaker I have worked quietly, away from publicity, to support this administration and help accomplish the legislative agenda of President Duterte to improve the lives of the Filipino people,“ he said.

However, he opted not to address the claim of Cayetano’s camp that he lacked support of the “supermajority” in the House, which even the Palace said is needed for him to assume the speakership.

Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte and Capiz 2nd District Rep. Fredenil Castro are of the opinion that Cayetano should continue leading the lower chamber until the next elections in 2022.

Villafuerte belittled Velasco’s leadership skills for the top congressional post, adding that he has lost a great following among their colleagues.

Speaking at “The Chiefs” on One News the same night, Villafuerte said: “If you want to be Speaker you should have 10 or 20 in your core group. Where are his supporters? Who are they?”

“All his supporters are now happy with the leadership of Cayetano since they were given positions, like Deputy Speaker Johnny Pimentel and Dong Gonzales. I don’t think they want to rock the boat now because they’re happy not only with their position but with the performance of the Speaker,“ he added.

The Camarines Sur congressman explained that Velasco lost his supporters “by default“ due to his inactivity and absence during major issues in Congress.

“In all the major issues in the House – anti-terror law, ABS-CBN franchise and Bayanihan 1 and 2 – where was he? So if most of his supporters lost faith and trust in him, he lost it by default,“ Villafuerte said.

In his privilege speech earlier Tuesday, Castro lamented how Cayetano had taken pains to promote unity in the House but was instead met by intrigue and rumor-mongering by Velasco’s camp.

“You (Velasco) never cared if it would be bad for our people. You always complain that the funds or the positions given you are not enough. You never thought that the priority of Congress is the country, not you,” Castro said.

Even the House minority agreed that it is not the best time to change the House leadership while the nation is facing the coronavirus pandemic.

Minority Leader Benny Abante said Congress should first finish the budget deliberations “for the sake of the economy and the people” before tackling the speakership issue, which he branded as a “political intramural.”

The Manila congressman stressed that budget matters should not be tied with the House leadership issue.

“There are some issues on the budget but we are able to solve them. We’re telling them to just approach the concerned officials like for example, the DPWH secretary, to raise their parochial concerns. But it shouldn’t be an issue for change in leadership in the House at this point in time – that we rock the boat in the middle of the ocean,” Abante said in an interview also with The Chiefs.

Abante said he knows the term-sharing deal was already a done deal as it was a gentleman’s agreement that should be honored, but admitted that this will still depend on the will of the House majority.

Under the term-sharing deal, Cayetano will serve as speaker for the first 15 months or until October 2020, with Velasco taking over the post for the final 21 months of the 18th Congress or until June 2022.

Last Tuesday, Velasco vowed: “When both parties finally honor the agreement, I will show my colleagues the kind of leadership I espouse. Thereafter, at the end of my term, my peers can then be the judge of my loyal service to God, to the President and ultimately, to the Filipino people.”

But in yesterday’s House session, more congressmen expressed support for the continuation of Cayetano’s speakership.

Caloocan City Rep. Edgar Erice, Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr., Bulacan Rep. Jonathan Sy-Alvarado and Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor took turns in calling for the nixing of the term-sharing deal in their privilege speeches.

Erice, of the Liberal Party (LP), called Velasco “a good and thoughtful brother,” but urged him to just give way to the “tested leadership of Cayetano” as the nation contends with the coronavirus pandemic.

“Congressman Velasco’s aspirations can wait. He is young, brilliant and only in his second term. In God’s time, he will shine, but not for now,” he said.

Barzaga, president of National Union Party (NUP), agreed with Erice and said their 61-member party in Congres would prefer to retain Cayetano as Speaker until 2022.

Sy-Alvarado said Cayetano “opened the House to the people – from being the House feared and rejected by people, to a House now loved by our people.”

Defensor shared the same view: “We all know that in the history of Congress, it is only now that Congress has reached the ratings that we are getting today. And we give credit to the leadership of Speaker Alan Cayetano.”

Former House speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta also joined calls for a status quo on the House leadership.

“If congressman Cayetano has already started it, let him finish it. Next year is the filing of certificates of candidacy (for the 2022 elections). If there’s any good left to be done, what’s a new Speaker to do with it? Let’s be practical about it,” Alvarez said in Filipino.

Marcoleta, of 1Sagip party-list, cited the difficulty of changing leaders as “the COVID-19 pandemic is still ravaging the country.”

Palace prioritizes budget

In Malacañang, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the President would understand if Cayetano remains as head of the legislative chamber until December since Congress is still deliberating next year’s budget.

“If a squabble happens, I hope it will happen after the budget deliberations. Under the original agreement, Speaker Cayetano should be there until October. But the President also in that same occasion told me that he understands if Cayetano needs to remain there until December because of the budget,” Roque told CNN Philippines in English and Filipino yesterday.

“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 previously said Duterte is hopeful that the term-sharing deal would be honored. However, the President could not do anything if Velasco does not have the numbers to make him Speaker, he added. – Delon Porcalla, Alexis Romero

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