Who gets to bang the gavel
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - June 19, 2019 - 12:00am

A popular saying goes: A picture is worth a thousand words. It simply refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single picture. This picture conveys the meaning or essence more effectively than a description does.

So if we go by this adage, we can surmise the message from the official photo release last Monday that the ruling administration Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) has already picked its choice of who to field in the Speakership race.

In that PDP-Laban photo release through its official viber group for media, it showed PDP-Laban president, Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III administering the oath of office of Pampanga Rep. Aurelio “Dong” Gonzales Jr. as the newly designated “interim executive vice president” of the PDP-Laban. Prior to his latest designation, Gonzales is regional president for Central Luzon (Region 3) of PDP-Laban.

“Pampanga Cong. Dong Gonzales will be taking a more active role in running the day-to-day affairs of the ruling party,” PDP-Laban camp disclosed. In another photo release, Pimentel was shown seated between Gonzales and Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, all of whom were smiling from ear-to-ear.

But the photo had a very cryptic caption stating: “Just sharing while waiting sa (for the) announcement ni PRRD (of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte).” This obviously refers to the sought after anointment of President Duterte as to who he would support to become the next Speaker of the House of Representatives.

As they previously announced, the PDP-Laban must come up only with a single candidate for the Speakership of the incoming 18th Congress. This was after no less than three PDP-Laban Congressmen who got re-elected in the last May 13 elections announced their respective bids to become the new House Speaker. These include Velasco, Gonzales, and erstwhile Speaker, Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez.

Of course, we could only speculate on the message of what this official photo release of the PDP-Laban wanted to convey. Since Alvarez was nowhere in the photo, we could suspect that he is literally out of the picture already from the PDP-Laban Speakership race.

Although he is currently the secretary-general of the PDP-Laban, the comeback bid of Alvarez to the helm of the House is doomed from the start. Reportedly, it was through the personal campaign of the President’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio who succeeded to remove Alvarez as House Speaker during the ceremonial joint opening of the third and final regular sessions of the 17th Congress in July 2018. He was replaced by former president and Pampanga Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

 While he may be a close friend and staunch political ally of President Duterte, Alvarez has alienated himself from Mayor Sara. His “bully” tactics to his House colleagues while he was Speaker also made his ouster a done deal.

Velasco, on the other hand, is the youngest aspirant at 41 years old. He joined PDP-Laban in 2016 after changing party affiliation three times over a nine-year period. His greatest edge is being a family friend of the Duterte’s. He is the son of retired Supreme Court associate justice Presbitero Velasco and is bruited to be the “favorite godson” of one the known rich Filipino-Chinese taipans in our country.

As for Gonzales, there is not even any clear indication that President Duterte or Mayor Sara considers him a serious candidate. Going back to the PDP-Laban picture, his being designated as “interim executive vice president” could be interpreted as a compromise to his giving way to Velasco.

But outside the PDP-Laban, there are other serious aspirants in the Speakership. These include known coalition allies of the Duterte administration, namely, comebacking Taguig City Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano and Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez. Cayetano belongs to the Nacionalista Party (NP) while Romualdez is the president of the Lakas-CMD.

Cayetano counts support from his former Cabinet members after he resigned as Foreign Affairs Secretary of President Duterte. He lost as the vice presidential candidate of then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte during the May 2016 elections. Highly regarded by President Duterte for his integrity and strong anti-corruption stance, Cayetano is highly qualified for the Speakership.

But Cayetano’s not so secret political ambition has been complicated by recent pronouncements that have turned-off Mayor Sara. In her press statement, Mayor Sara expressed her apprehensions on Cayetano’s reported warning about the administration allies might get divided if he won’t be named by the President as his choice for Speaker.

Like Cayetano, Romualdez is a returning Congressman. Romualdez has shown his political savvy by reviving the Lakas-CMD party and made himself the titular head. A lawyer by profession, Romualdez is currently the president of the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa), an institution that advocates staunch defense of the country’s 1987 Constitution.

Romualdez impressed me with his sense of humility, resonant leadership, and positive disposition when he appeared as guest in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay breakfast news forum last May 22. If we are to believe his House supporters, there are over 150 House members who signed commitment of support to him as Speaker as of this writing, and counting!

The PDP-Laban has about 84 Congressmen; the NP has 37; the Nationalist People’s Coalition has 33; the National Unity Party has 28, Liberal Party has 18; Lakas-CMD has 5; and the leftist Makabayan bloc has six. The party-list representatives comprised about 54 members.

But more than half of the incoming 300 or so House members are all newcomers who owe no loyalty to anyone.

The aspirant to the Speakership who earns the highest number of votes gets to bang the gavel when 18th Congress convenes its first regular sessions on July 22. Refusing to openly endorse anyone, President Duterte lets the photos of Speakership aspirants posing with him speak for itself.

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