A ‘listener’ for a Speaker
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - May 24, 2019 - 12:00am

A popular idiomatic expression says: “The more, the merrier; the fewer, the better fare.” In social events, the expression – the more, the merrier – means there is more fun when there are more people. In an election though, more candidates wanting to wrest the lone seat as in the case of the Speakership at the House of Representatives, it would be un-fun, if not a jejune contest ahead.

This seems to be the case in the brewing Speakership fight at the incoming 18th Congress when it convenes its maiden sessions on July 22. This early, there are at least nine aspirants among the newly elected and re-elected Congressmen who have signaled their respective interests to throw their hats in the election of a new House Speaker.

After all, a congressman with moist eyes at the Speakership will become the fourth highest elective official of the land. But most important reason of all, the Speaker is the third in the line of succession after the Vice President and the Senate president under our country’s 1987 Constitution in case of vacancy at the presidency.

Thus, the emerging big contest for the Speakership is fast turning into a big power play among these aspirants.

 As of this writing yesterday, these Congressmen who have so far declared their individual intentions included four Congressmen from the ruling administration party PDP-Laban of President Rodrigo Duterte. They are, namely, ex-Speaker Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez; Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Jay Velasco; Pampanga 3rd district Rep. Aurelio Gonzales Jr.; and Davao Oriental Rep. Joel Mayo Almario.

The other contenders for the House speakership include former Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary and newly elected Taguig City 1st district Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano; former senator and now Antique Congresswoman-elect Loren Legarda; and Capiz 2nd district Rep. Fredenil Castro who is currently the deputy majority House leader of the 17th Congress. Cayetano belongs to the Nacionalista Party (NP) while Legarda is from the Nationalist People’s Coalition; and Castro is with the National Unity Party (NUP). 

Cayetano counts on the full endorsement of Mayor Duterte with whom he ran but lost as the latter’s vice presidential running mate in the May 2016 elections. Cayetano’s wife also ran and won in the second congressional district of Taguig City that would be vacated by Senator-elect Pia Cayetano. 

 Also making a comeback in Congress – after having served three consecutive terms, too – is Leyte Congressman Martin Romualdez who is “definitely” seeking the Speakership. Romualdez officially declared his intention to run for the Speakership race during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay breakfast news forum at the Café Adriatico in Remedios Circle, Malate last Wednesday.

Two days after the May 13 midterm elections, the Commission on Elections officially proclaimed Romualdez as the winner of the congressional race in the 1st district of Leyte. “I am confirming that I am one of the candidates for speakership,” Romualdez disclosed.

Before doing so, Romualdez first consulted with his House colleagues who are members of political party Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (CMD). Although he is currently the party president of the Lakas-CMD, Romualdez also spoke with outgoing Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who remains as their honorary chairperson emeritus. Mrs. Arroyo used to be the Lakas-CMD party chieftain before she joined the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) in the ruling majority coalition in the outgoing 17th Congress.

And making the final consultation on his plan to throw his hat in the Speakership race, Romualdez admitted seeking out first a private audience with President Duterte at Malacanang Palace a few days ago. Out of respect, Romualdez cited, he informed President Duterte about his intention to lead the Lower House and carry on the unfinished legislative agenda of his administration’s remaining three years in office.

The three PDP-Laban contenders and Cayetano have also similarly sought out audience with the Chief Executive about their respective bids to become the Speaker of the 18th Congress.

Romualdez believes the President’s nod is a “very important factor” when he made his decision to join the Speakership race. “When you aspire for Speaker (of the House), you represent the majority coalition of the administration,” he pointed out.  “If you think you share a common voice (with the President), you must confront the legislative agenda of the administration,” he added.

Turning 54 years old later this year, Romualdez comes from a political family in the province that traces its roots from his late uncle, Speaker Daniel Romualdez. So it should not be a surprise why his nephew now wants to become the House Speaker like his uncle was.

These congressmen-candidates for the Speakership are all part of the Duterte administration’s coalition umbrella. That is why they all want to get tacit presidential support to their bid. The wily ones though are not making it secret to get the presidential support via backdoor. Some try to get to presidential daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio who came out with a public statement on the matter.

“It is best if the newly elected members of the House of Representatives individually decide who among those who are interested to become the next Speaker can truly bring good governance and positive change to Congress, to the Filipino people, and to our country,” Duterte-Carpio cited.

Asked what should be the best criteria in choosing the Speaker, Romualdez drew inspiration from erstwhile Speakers Feliciano Belmonte and the late Davao Rep.Prospero Nograles. He wants to replicate and follow their House leadership as consultative, sensitive to parochial concerns, accessible and generous with their time. “You have to be the congressman of congressmen,” Romualdez said.

“But most of all, a good Speaker is one who listens more than he speaks,” he quipped.

It’s really a misnomer but it best describes how Romualdez wants to be a Speaker who is more of a listener.

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