More than the speakership
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - June 5, 2019 - 12:00am

As an opinion writer, I usually don’t concern myself with political activities such as the race for Speaker of the House of Representatives. However, I find the upcoming event particularly interesting because for the first time, it is not the Trapos or traditional politicians or long established parties that have the upper hand. Instead, it’s the little guys or party-list representatives who had the wisdom and humility to come together and form the biggest consolidated voting block that can determine the outcome of the selection, or in one bold move, actually place the first ever Speaker from the party-list group.

This would certainly change the atmosphere and attitudes in Congress given the fact that party-list representatives have long been treated as second class or second rate representatives who are forced to run around Congress with their “begging bowls” in order to get committee membership or funding for their projects. In the out-going Congress a number of party list representatives have told me about how house leaders would treat them like newbies and bully them regarding legislative priorities and budgets. Adding insult to injury, during the term of the last two speakers; Alvarez and Arroyo, party mates and supporters would get the first and the most in terms of committees and funds while party-list reps got leftovers or what could not be taken away from them because of house rules.

Now that the numbers game has changed, the party-list block has enough votes to field their own candidate and/or seriously influence the outcome of the selection. At the moment, those aspiring to be the next Speaker of the House have no choice but to make a deal with the block because of their votes. But “Following the Leader” or “Let’s Make a Deal” is not the only game in town. Instead of playing “What’s in it for me?” the party-list block should try to get one or two smaller groups to “bolt-in” with them until they have the numbers to field and install their own choice for Speaker.

Given that it was Congressman Mikee Romero of the 1-Pacman party-list who was one of the principal movers for the party-list reps to consolidate, chances are that Romero will be asked or considered to lead the charge of the “Renegades” or “Disruptors” in the 18th Congress.

I personally find this possibility very interesting, first, because Congressman Romero is more a businessman than a politician. He is now the majority shareholder of Air Asia Philippines, is seriously invested in sports and has intimate knowledge and experience of the challenges and opportunities that face businessmen and corporations. Because he is not a professional politician or a politician turned businessman, there is a greater likelihood that Romero as Speaker could be a game changer for doing business in the Philippines.

One of the big things that he could champion is the overhaul of aviation in the Philippines in terms of prioritizing the infrastructure development and regulatory processes in the country. PAL, Cebu Pacific, and Philippines Air Asia will perpetually be facing head winds and delayed growth until someone who understands what’s wrong with the system, and pushes to prioritize infrastructure, has a strong hand in Congress. I think it was US Senator Bob Dole who told the story about how difficult it was for him to set up a business after retirement. Dole said “If I had known how difficult it is to set up shop, I might have passed more bills to make things easier.”

The question is: Will the Party-list Coalition go for the gold or settle for the coins and chairs? It might be prudent for them to consider that after showing themselves as a force and a threat, making a quick deal now might ultimately lead to their undoing or dissolution of the party-list system. A handshake with a Trapo Speaker today might end up becoming a handcuff in the years to come. Here’s a reminder from the internet that the party-list block ought to remember:

“If you expect the world to be fair with you because you are fair, you’re fooling yourself. That’s like expecting the lion not to eat you because you did not eat him.”

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When President Duterte publicly expressed his sense of loss that Senator JV Ejercito was not re-elected, he tried to console people by saying that the “Good” Senator could always be appointed as a Cabinet member. What PRRD missed is that Ejercito will have to wait a whole year before he can be given a Cabinet post because of a law that says so. I have written against this prohibition, which I find regressive because it prevents qualified individuals from serving.

A winning President could be a healing President by inviting his opponents on board. Guys like Ejercito who has a good track record as a legislator and local executive could immediately serve a President who is facing difficulty finding qualified and willing individuals. It is common knowledge that there are many vacant positions in government but very few willing takers. For years that legal prohibition has been a stonewall against unification and recruitment of qualified people. At the very least the prohibition should be reduced to three or six months or should be abolished altogether. Some laws just don’t help and this is one of them!

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