Bigger House spending seen with more deputy speakers
The House of Representatives plenary hall on October 13, 2020.
House of Representatives/Release

Bigger House spending seen with more deputy speakers

Xave Gregorio (Philstar.com) - December 12, 2020 - 12:18pm

MANILA, Philippines — The leadership of the House of Representatives under Speaker Lord Allan Velasco has become the largest in the history of the chamber with 28 deputy speakers, which means that it would have to spend more for the perks of its leaders.

The 28 lawmakers who were elected as deputy speakers would receive additional funding for their respective offices, as part of the benefits that they have as House leaders, which may mean that the chamber is on track for a spike in spending.

For perspective, in 2017 when 14 deputy speakers were seated, the House’s spending jumped 16% from the previous year to P8.27 billion, according to Commission on Audit reports. The chamber’s spending hiked again by 21% the following year to P10.02 billion.

Even in the audit reports, it is not clear how much deputy speakers get, which, University of the Philippines political science professor Jean Franco said points to a lack of transparency and weak accountability in the budget of Congress.

“[Congress is] responsible for scrutinizing the budget of the executive branch, but theirs is hardly scrutinized,” Franco told Philstar.com in a text message.

Consolidating power

The expenses of the House has been generally increasing through the years while the number of deputy speakers continue to add up.

The House started with just three deputy speakers, each representing the three major island groups of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, during the time of former Speaker Jose de Venecia, who later added two or three more.

In preparation for a shift to a federal form of government, Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez (Davao del Norte) when he became speaker in 2016 appointed 14 deputy speakers. This number rose to 22 when Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano (Taguig-Pateros) became speaker.

Aside from additional funding, deputy speakers also have voting powers in every committee in the House as they stand as ex-officio members of all panels. They can also preside over House sessions in lieu of the speaker.

It is a plum post which has been historically handed by the sitting speaker to their allies or veteran lawmakers. In Velasco’s case, Franco said, he is rewarding his allies with the deputy speakership to consolidate his power in the House.

True enough, Velasco has been busy chopping the heads of allies of his predecessor Cayetano, who was ousted in an unprecedented session outside of Batasan Pambansa, and replacing them with his allies.

“It’s a very partisan move,” political analyst Ramon Casiple said in a report by The STAR. “The appointment of numerous deputy speakers will not serve their respective constituents but will only bleed the public’s coffers for their bloated allowances.”

But for Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez (Cagayan de Oro City), it is just a matter of “equal representation” of all regions and political parties.

“We have imperial Manila always, and so therefore Speaker Lord deems it necessary to make sure that there is representation from the 16 regions. It’s a move in the right direction,” the newly elected House leader told a news conference. — with a report from Delon Porcalla/The STAR

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