Lord of the House
New Speaker Lord Allan Velasco thanks supporters on his first day at the rostrum of the session hall at the House of Representatives in Quezon City yesterday.
Michael Varcas
Lord of the House
Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) - October 14, 2020 - 12:00am

Velasco takes over as Cayetano steps down as Speaker

MANILA, Philippines — The slugfest over the leadership of the House of Representatives finally ended yesterday after more than 200 members of the chamber “ratified” their election of Rep. Lord Allan Velasco as the new Speaker.

Before the proceedings, supporters and allies of the lone Marinduque representative had to force open all the doors to the House plenary hall, which supporters of his predecessor Taguig Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano had closed.

Reps. Arnie Teves (Negros Oriental), Esmael 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 and ratified his election as Speaker during a rump assembly held on Monday at the Celebrity Sports Plaza in Quezon City.

“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 in his speech read from his cell phone.

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

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

“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 declared.

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 is expected to keep his post.

Herrera, a deputy majority leader, denounced the Cayetano’s camp attempt to bar them from the plenary hall.

“House members should be able to enter the Batasan Complex, the House of the People, without the need to ask for permission from anyone,” she said.

“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.

“As the head of a nation comprised of 109 million people, our President is voicing out the widespread sentiment that the interest of our people – especially at this time of the COVID-19 pandemic and the concomitant crises it has spawned – is being sacrificed before the altar of personal greed and political ambition,” Velasco said.

Changing tune

Before noon, Cayetano was making cursory appeal to his supporters to back President Duterte’s call for the swift passage of the P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021 – after deliberately stalling it last week by unilaterally suspending sessions until Nov. 16.

“I love this institution. I’ve been here since 1998. I’ve faced many Goliaths,” he warned the Velasco camp, whom he even called “saboteurs.”

“If you are bent on destroying and burning down the House, I will not allow you to burn this House down. Remember that,” he said.

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

He had earlier said his term-sharing deal with Velasco – brokered by President Duterte – became moot after the rejection by 184 House members of his offer to resign. Cayetano will celebrate his 50th birthday on Oct. 28.

But his statement on Facebook appeared to be the exact opposite of what he had been doing for weeks. “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,” he added.

Cayetano – criticized by his political foes and netizens for his theatrics and frequent invoking of biblical verses – stated in his press releases that  “he is 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 said.

In a press release issued before noon, Cayetano 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.

In a related development, reports also have it that Duterte’s congressman-son Paolo has resigned as House Deputy Speaker for political affairs. There was no immediate confirmation of the report, however, as congressmen were still busy with the turnover.

Members of the minority bloc, meanwhile, said they can work with whoever is sitting as Speaker, as they have “consistently committed to working with our colleagues in the majority in order to craft legislation aimed at benefiting our people.”

“This we pledge to do regardless of who occupies the office of the Speaker – the holder of which is determined by those who belong to the majority,” House Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr. said in a statement.

“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 group added.

Meanwhile, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto lauded what he called Cayetano’s short by spectacular stint as speaker.

“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,” said Recto.

“His stint as House leader may be short, but it was spectacular. He passed all the bills the Palace requested, plus those which are products of the House’s policy ingenuity, which he harnessed in full,” he added.

“While he had changed chambers, he was constantly in touch with his old colleagues in the Smaller but Smarter House. He is always welcome here, and the polls show that it will be a walk in the park for him,” Recto said.

Recto said when Cayetano accepted the demotion from senator to foreign affairs secretary, he made it a point to be always accessible to any worker in distress. “I have referred many OFWs in distress and he made it a point to personally attend to all of them,” Recto said.

“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,” he added. – Cecille Suerte-Felipe

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