House votes to keep Cayetano as speaker
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano addresses the plenary at the House of Representatives yesterday.
STAR/ File
House votes to keep Cayetano as speaker
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - October 1, 2020 - 12:00am

But will he step down October 14?

MANILA, Philippines — Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano is keeping his post after the House plenary decided in session yesterday to reject his offer to resign and proceed with his term-sharing agreement with Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco.

It’s unclear if Cayetano intends to honor a reported agreement brokered Monday by President Duterte, who heads the administration coalition, to turn over the Speaker’s post to Velasco by Oct. 14.

Congressmen voted 184-1 with nine abstentions to approve the motion of Cayetano’s allies to reject his offer to resign effective today.

Several of those who voted in favor, however, clarified that they simply wanted Cayetano to keep his post until Oct. 14, as agreed upon with Duterte.

Cayetano offered to resign at the end of an hour-long address to the plenary in which he attacked Velasco for pushing for the change in the House leadership during budget deliberations and while the nation is facing the coronavirus pandemic.

“I will not be a party to letting the President down, so I am offering my resignation here and now to you, my dear colleagues. My fate and the fate of the 2021 budget and leadership of the House are in your hands,” he told fellow congressmen.

“What Velasco did last night makes it impossible for me to finish the budget. If our colleagues want you (Velasco) to take over today, then do it. I’m offering my resignation here and now,” Cayetano said.

He added: “Congressman Velasco told the President that he is ready. Then I think the best time to prove it is now. You want Sept. 30. Go ahead. If colleagues want you today, then go ahead.”

His allies, led by Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor and Bulacan Rep. Jonathan Sy-Alvarado, stood up and put forward a motion rejecting his resignation offer.

Deputy Speaker Raneo Abu then sought viva voce voting or voting via “ayes” and “nays,” but the plenary instead proceeded to settle the matter via nominal voting.

A total of 184 House members voted to keep Cayetano as Speaker, while only one dissented.

This developed after Cayetano and Velasco met with Duterte in Malacañang the night before to tackle the speakership issue.

Earlier in the day, allies of Cayetano led by Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte belied reports quoting Velasco’s camp that he is all set to assume the House leadership on Oct. 14.

Cayetano said he was tasked by the President to announce what was discussed about the agreement in the Palace Tuesday night.

He said he planned to report it to the plenary, but said the camp of Velasco preempted it and immediately broke the development to the media “with a mix of fake news.”

Velasco camp absent

However, yesterday’s voting to retain Cayetano as Speaker reportedly happened while allies of Velasco were asked not to join the session via online platforms so as not to listen to his rival’s speech.

They reportedly did not participate in the voting.

Before the voting, Cayetano already expressed confidence of having the support of the majority of congressmen.

“Under the Constitution, you need a majority of all members to be elected speaker. So, I can step aside, but I cannot guarantee he (Velasco) will be elected. In fact, I will make a fearless forecast, he will not win. Or if I step aside and he wins, after one week he will be ousted by coup d’etat,” the Taguig-Pateros congressman stressed.

Earlier this week, a total of 202 out of the nearly 300-member House signed a manifesto of support for Cayetano amid the power struggle in the chamber in what appeared to be a show of force of the so-called “supermajority” in Congress.

‘Velasco rejected Duterte’s request’

In his speech, Cayetano claimed that Velasco repeatedly rejected during their meeting the request of President Duterte to move the turnover of the House leadership to December so as to ensure smooth passage of the 2021 budget that is crucial for government’s pandemic response programs.

“More than three or four times the President asked Cong. Velasco to have the turnover in December for the sake of the budget and the nation. I saw the pain in the President’s heart; I saw the burden,” he said.

Cayetano revealed that he offered Velasco to work with him for the next three months so he could help him win the support of fellow congressmen, which he said is currently lacking.

“I tried to give Cong. Velasco an easier route to the speakership. But he always said his reputation is just being destroyed and that, basically, he cannot work with us,” he recalled.

Foreshadowing

Yesterday morning, Villafuerte gave a foreshadowing of what was to come, saying Velasco would need to muster the numbers – a majority of the House – when the speakership is put to a vote in the plenary.

“Some newspapers reported that Lord Velasco is the new Speaker. How can you be the new Speaker when you still need to be voted upon?” the Camarines Sur congressman said in an interview with ANC’s “Headstart.”

He said Velasco should “start getting the confidence” of the majority first.

He also said Cayetano was willing to resign any time, but would have his hands tied should the House majority decide not to honor the agreement. “(Cayetano) cannot do anything if the majority votes to keep him,” Villafuerte said.

“Lawmakers want Alan to stay, and that’s not in defiance of the President but because they’re asserting their personal positions. They have valid concerns,” he said. “We want a leader who has a voice, who has a stand.”

Oct. 14 or not?

Villafuerte, who attended the meeting in Malacañang, also said the date of Velasco’s assumption of the speakership was “not clear,” contrary to reports that it was set for Oct. 14.

“Oct. 14 date was never mentioned during the meeting. They’re (Velasco camp) the ones claiming that. If you’re going to be strict about it, term-sharing deal should kick in on Oct. 22, not Oct. 14,” he said.

But an ally of Velasco who was also at the meeting said the Oct. 14 date was agreed upon by both camps.

“Both parties agreed to leadership change on Oct. 14 in front of the President,” said Oriental Mindoro Rep. Doy Leachon, adding that the President urged Cayetano and Velasco “to honor their words.”

“The President did not want to impose, but let both parties come to some terms. Cayetano hoped that he would still be Speaker on his birthday on Oct. 28. Cong. Velasco, on the other hand, said his birthday is on Nov. 9. Both of them agreed on the Oct. 14 date,” he said.

Committee leaderships stay

Leachon also revealed earlier in the day that Cayetano and Velasco agreed there would be no changes in other House leadership posts.

Yesterday, Villafuerte alleged that Velasco’s camp was planning to change the chairpersons of the committees on appropriations and on good governance and public accountability if he assumes the speakership.

Meanwhile, Leachon claimed that Cayetano’s camp attacked Velasco during the meeting with the President, accusing Velasco of betraying the term-sharing deal by allegedly plotting to oust Cayetano.

He said the bickering only stopped when the President asked them to let the other side speak.

Villafuerte denied Leachon’s allegation. “That’s a lie that we insulted Velasco. We just told the President that we respect him, (but) that we want to speak our minds,” he claimed.

Leachon was replaced earlier this year as head of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal following a reported attempt to oust Cayetano, which was attributed to Velasco’s camp. – Mayen Jaymalin

ALAN PETER CAYETANO
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