Shakeup, realignments begin
Dasmariñas City Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr., president of the 47-member National Unity Party (NUP), said they have already discussed with Velasco their support for his leadership all the way to June 2022.
Boy Santos, file
Shakeup, realignments begin
Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) - October 15, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Speaker Lord Allan Velasco now has the full support of the “supermajority” in the House of Representatives after three power blocs loyal to his predecessor, Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano, shifted their allegiance yesterday.

Dasmariñas City Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr., president of the 47-member National Unity Party (NUP), said they have already discussed with Velasco their support for his leadership all the way to June 2022.

Barzaga, who chairs the committee on environment and natural resources, said the new Speaker extended his invitation to NUP to join the new majority.

“After consulting the chairman and also our co-founder, since we are committed to support the programs of President Duterte, we have decided to accept the invitation to join the majority,” he said.

Even the Nacionalista Party, to which Cayetano belongs, expressed its desire to back Velasco’s leadership. The 44-strong NP met with Velasco yesterday morning to show their support.

“We signed and passed a manifesto expressing our support for his speakership. This is the entire NP,” a source, who requested anonymity, said.

Meantime, House insiders said Majority Leader Martin Romualdez – president of Lakas-CMD party that has also shifted support to Velasco – will be able to keep his post, although allies of the new Speaker have recently been manning deliberations on the floor.

Developments in these three blocs effectively cement Velasco’s hold on the administration coalition, led by President Duterte’s PDP-Laban party.

In addition, the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), Party-list Coalition Foundation (PCFI) and the Liberal Party (LP) have also thrown their support behind his leadership.

Breaking down the numbers, Velasco has the support of the Lakas-CMD with 37 members; NP with 44 members; NPC with around 30; PDP-Laban with at least 57 members; PCFI with 54 and the LP with about 17.

Changing guards

Last Tuesday, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Doy Leachon – who worked behind the scenes for Velasco’s takeover of the House leadership following Cayetano’s refusal to relinquish the post – was designated senior deputy speaker, a newly created office.

The President’s son and former deputy speaker Davao Rep. Paolo Duterte was appointed chairman of the House committee on accounts, replacing Cavite Rep. Abraham Tolentino.

Velasco ally 1Pacman party-list Rep. Mikee Romero is back as deputy speaker but for finance, replacing Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte, another Cayetano ally who was removed from his post.

Quezon Rep. Helen Tan was able to regain her chairmanship of the House committee on health which was held for only one week by Guimaras Rep. Lucille Nava, who belongs to the Cayetano camp.

It could not be known yet if Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab – who was unceremoniously removed by Cayetano last February as chair of the House appropriations committee – will regain his old post held by ACT-CIS Rep. Eric Go Yap, a friend and ally of the President.

Among Velasco’s allies purged by Cayetano were Reps. Sharon Garin (Aambis-Owa), who used to head the economic affairs committee, and Eric Martinez (Valenzuela) of youth and sports.

Garin’s post is now held by Cayetano ally Rep. Teodorico Haresco of Aklan, while former actor and now Manila Rep. Yul Servo has Martinez’s post.

Revamp begins?

Speculations of a major revamp, as hinted by Velasco’s allies, might have already started with the reinstatement of his allies.

Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr., a close ally of Velasco, told Tuesday night’s episode of The Chiefs on One News/TV5 that a revamp is inevitable.

Teves, who engaged Cayetano’s allies in a long drawn-out word war, said that key posts in the House should be given to congressmen who share Velasco’s vision and direction for the chamber. He did not name which deputy speakers or committee chairpersons would go.

Independent Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman agreed that Velasco should reorganize the House committee chairmanships.

“It is obvious and expected that the new Speaker should not be tied up with the constraint of retaining major positions like committee chairmanships and deputy speakers because he should have people with his confidence,” he told the same episode of The Chiefs.

“I suggest that key men and women of former speaker Cayetano should resign so the new Speaker can have a free hand,” Lagman said.

If it’s any indication, Rep. Duterte’s new chairmanship of the committee accounts was followed by the election of Ilocos Sur Rep. Kristine Singson-Meehan, a Velasco supporter, as his vice chair during the plenary session Tuesday night.

The committee is crucial to the House leadership as it is tasked to deal with “all matters directly and principally relating to the internal budget of the House, including budget preparation, submission and approval, disbursements, accounting and financial operations.”

Cayetano objects

Cayetano has questioned the plan, claiming that any change in the House leadership posts and committee chairmanships would violate their term-sharing agreement in which it was agreed that only the speakership post would be affected in the so-called “15-21” deal brokered by the President.

“You told me to have palabra de honor, then you should do it from your side, too. The President was clear that he doesn’t want disruption, so there should be no change in any chairmanship and leadership in Congress,” he said in a Facebook Live post yesterday afternoon.

Cayetano revealed that allies of Velasco have started to ask the former speaker’s allies to vacate their posts.

“They are even occupying the rooms already. Let’s not do that, let’s all focus on the budget,” he appealed.

Cayetano and his allies were, however, the first to violate the agreement days before the change in leadership when they unseated Romero as deputy speaker and replaced him with Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro. They also ousted Tan and Martinez.

Ousted not resigned

Romero, the richest congressman in the House and head of the party-list coalition, clarified that Cayetano was unseated following their election of Velasco as the new Speaker last Oct. 12.

In his Facebook Live post after Velasco was confirmed as Speaker at the plenary, Cayetano claimed he had tendered his “irrevocable resignation.”

“Cayetano was ousted, he didn’t resign,” Romero said. “The Speaker’s post was vacated Oct. 12, we elected Congressman Lord. But he insisted he was still the Speaker. The next day, we ratified our election of Velasco but he said he is still the Speaker. I’m just being factual.”

The economist-lawmaker cited the remote session held by the House majority in Celebrity Sports Plaza in Quezon City last Monday where they voted to declare the speakership post vacant, effectively ousting Cayetano, and elected Velasco as new Speaker – a session which Cayetano’s camp questioned for being “illegal.”

The election of Velasco, however, was ratified by the same majority inside the House session hall the following day.

Meanwhile, Lagman said Velasco’s meeting with Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio was the game changer in the speakership battle.

“It was not just instrumental, it was crucial,” the veteran lawmaker said of the meeting held in Davao last Oct. 9.

Cayetano was able to gather 200 congressmen to sign a manifesto of support for his continued speakership.

But after meeting with the President’s daughter, Velasco was able to get the majority vote of 186 congressmen last Monday. This figure grew to over 200 last Tuesday.

Mayor Duterte even issued a statement echoing her father’s support for the enforcement of the term-sharing agreement on the speakership. She also played a crucial role during the speakership battle between Pantaleon Alvarez and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the previous Congress.

Lagman explained that while it is “flawed,” the role of the administration in selection of the House speaker is not new as it has always been the tradition and practice since the 8thCongress after the historic 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution.

2 new lawmakers

Also last Tuesday night, two more party-list representatives were added to the House roster that brought to 301 the current members.

Velasco administered the oath of Duterte Youth Rep. Ducielle Cardema and Senior Citizens Rep. Rodolfo Ordanes as new members of the House.

Cardema replaced her husband Ronald after the latter’s nomination as Duterte Youth’s first nominee was cancelled by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) 1st Division for being over-aged since under the law, a youth sector representative must be between 25 and 30 years old.

Ordanes, on the other hand, replaced Senior Citizens Rep. Francisco Datol who died due to complications brought about by COVID-19 last Aug. 10.

Sotto to meet Velasco

Meanwhile, Senate President Vicente Sotto III revealed that he and Velasco are set to meet soon.

Sotto told reporters that he and Velasco were able to talk over the phone on Monday night. “I said, ‘congratulations!’ We agreed to meet soon to further strengthen the relationship of both houses, no protocol necessary,” he said.

He said the planned meeting would likely happen next week after the House approves the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021 as Velasco had promised.

He said he expects good working relations between senators and leaders of the House led by Velasco.

Sotto, a leader of the NPC, said Velasco had assured him that members of the party who hold committee chairmanships and other key positions in the House will retain their posts.

Meanwhile, Sen. Leila de Lima yesterday said the weeks-long tussle for the speakership of the House is a proxy charade between the two Dutertes – the President and his daughter Sara – for the 2022 presidential elections.

“The writing on the wall is clear – 2022. They are not very obvious, are they?” quipped De Lima. “The House will be maneuvered and the funds will be used for their personal ambition. A little delicadeza please,” she added.

De Lima also criticized the appointment of Rep. Duterte as chairman of the House committee in charge of the chamber’s internal budget. – Paolo Romero, Cecille Suerte Felipe

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