Unsettled
FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - June 22, 2019 - 12:00am

After disavowing any interest in influencing the fight for Speaker of the House, President Duterte has now come under intense pressure to intervene.

During a dinner event earlier this week for congressmen from the PDP-Laban party, the President reportedly asked for more time to consult with the principal contenders. He is quoted as saying he will announce his preference on June 28.

The three main contenders for the post – Alan Peter Cayetano, Lord Allan Velasco and Martin Romualdez – are all allied with the President. The contest appears unsettled to this point, requiring the President’s intervention.

Earlier this week, Cayetano organized a forum for the incoming congressmen at Clark. About 30 legislators were reported in attendance.

At the Palace dinner the following evening, organized by presidential son Paolo Duterte presumably to rally support for Velasco, about 120 legislators were in attendance. This could be interpreted as the size of his constituency.

Supporters of Romualdez, for their part, claim they have collected about 140 signatures in a manifesto of support for their candidate. Although allegiances are notoriously fluid at the House of Representatives, this too could be interpreted as the size of his constituency.

The day after the Palace dinner, an event that might have created momentum for Velasco, Romualdez travelled to Samar with President Duterte. A day after that, he was photographed meeting with Mayor Sara Duterte in Davao.

Mayor Sara, we will recall, was instrumental in the change of leadership in the House last year. She was also the key mover behind Hugpong ng Pagbabago, a broad coalition of regional and national political parties that dominated the midterm elections.

Although overshadowed by Hugpong, the PDP-Laban has very publicly pressured the President to ensure that the party holds the leadership of the House. Apart from Velasco, two other PDP-Laban stalwarts have also indicated their availability for the speakership.

Shortly before he flew to the US to train for his next fight, Sen. Manny Pacquiao took a private jet to Mindanao to confer with the President regarding the speakership fight. It is believed Pacquiao is the main man trying to convince Duterte to endorse someone from the PDP-Laban.

Notwithstanding the public campaign to pressure Duterte to endorse a PDP-Laban member for Speaker, it does not appear Romualdez is relenting in his campaign for the post.

Of the main contenders for the post, Romualdez has the advantage of having close relationships with many of his colleagues. An investment banker, he has firm grasp of the economic and financial policy issues of the day.

His strongest pitch, however, is a commitment to pass the national budget on time during his watch. This should resonate well with the President. All the squabbling over the budget led to this year’s delayed enactment. That delay cost the national economy dearly, forcing our quarterly growth rate to fall significantly below 6%.

President Duterte must be hemmed in between choosing according to party dictate or the guarantee of an efficiently run House. His is not an easy choice to make. This could be the only reason he pleaded for more time before making an endorsement.

There was much promise when President Duterte earlier declared he would keep his hand off the speakership fight. That meant that the separation of powers would finally be respected not only in word but also in deed.

But the PDP-Laban, it seems, is unable to secure the speakership by itself. This is why the party is so bent on dragging the President back into this messy game politicians play.

The party is very likely being unfair to the President.

Party-lists

For the first time ever, party-list congressmen have bonded together and negotiated as a bloc. This is a factor that alters the complexion of the speakership contest.

In all the previous congresses under the 1987 Constitution, those elected under the party-list system were generally considered second-class legislators. They played no role in deciding how the chamber will be led. They were not awarded key committee chairmanships. They hardly mattered in defining the legislative agenda.

This time, the party-list congressmen have formally organized. This is due largely to the efforts of Rep. Mikey Romero.

Being a swing factor in the speakership contest, the party-list bloc exercises strong leverage. According to some insiders, the bloc is holding out not just for major committee chairmanships. They are in a position to demand the post of majority leader.

The influence of this bloc is unprecedented. With none of the major parties in a position to dictate their will on the chamber, a tightly organized bloc of party-list representatives could actually emerge as the decisive force in the House.

The tables are turned. The conventional district representatives, because they are fragmented into so many parties, now seem to be the second-class congressmen. Their voices seem weaker than that of a solidly organized party-list bloc.

The multi-party system, compounded by party-list representation, has now taken its expected course. Broad and tenuous coalitions need to be built. Every legislative issue now becomes a matter of intensive negotiations among so many parties.

Without a skilled and compelling conductor, all the intricate legislative processes could fall apart. The House could be rendered unproductive. The President’s legislative agenda could stall.

This is a factor complicating President Dutere’s endorsement. He is caught between the competing demands of the PDP-Laban and those of the party-list bloc.  He knows that the House can only be governed by a coalition, not by a single party.

The next Speaker must be a coalition-builder.

CONGRESS PDP-LABAN PARTY SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE
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