The speakership
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - July 16, 2019 - 12:00am

From my  stand in faraway Mindanao, I read with amusement media’s televised and printed reports the  goings on in the power brokers’ domain in Imperial Manila. Let me backtrack some. When a “coup” toppled the reign of  House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, President Rodrigo Duterte and his daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte Carpio embraced with open arms the ascension of  former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to the office of Speaker. Media reports said the “coup” was planned and executed in utmost secrecy.

This time, the choice of House Speaker was  done with openness. The President publicly endorsed Congressman Alan Peter Cayetano of Taguig, and Congressman Lord Allan Velasco of Marinduque  to share the plum position. Cayetano will serve as Speaker during the first 15 months, and Velasco, the next 21 months. Congressman Martin Romualdez of Leyte was endorsed as majority floor leader.

The President’s announcement came as a surprise – if not as a thunderbolt (hidden though it may be) to some. The Chief had said earlier that he will not meddle with the speakership issue, that he would leave it to the House to elect the man (a woman  is not being considered, mind you) of their choice. What made him change his mind? Not that mind-change is not his option. Can his allies in Congress say no to the chief? 

But it turns out that his closest allies are the ones questioning his decision. Presidential children Mayor Sara and Congressman Paolo “Pulong” Duterte are not in favor of the sharing arrangement. (They seem to be not fearful of presidential ire; they have their own choice for the seat – Rep. Isidro Ungab of Davao City’s third district; in fact they have formed the Duterte Coalition to gather support for Ungab.) 

Sara (one of only two women that the President publicly said he is afraid of, the other being  Veronica, his daughter with his live-in partner Cielito “Honeylet” Salvador Avancena) has been quoted as saying  her Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP) party is against term sharing. “It is counterproductive. It will slow down the last three years of the administration of the President. The House will be wracked with unseating the incumbent speaker, deceit, dissent and distrust.” 

On the other hand, Rep. Mikee Romero of 1-Pacman, who heads the 54-member Party-list Coalition (PLC), told ABS-CBN News Channel it would be counterproductive for the House representatives  to go against  the wishes of the President. “We will have a very destructive government. It will be the nation, the economy and the people who will suffer if  we go head-to-head against Malacanang. You know, the economy  is expanding by seven to eight percent in terms of GDP (Gross Domestic Product), it might collapse if we quarrel. So, really, we have to go hand-in-hand.”

According to media reports, Presidential  Spokesperson Salvador Panelo stressed that the President  had never intervened in the speakership row. His endorsement of Cayetano came only after the position aspirants sought the President’s help to break the impasse. The President did not want to intrude, Panelo said, it’s the contenders who asked him  for his decision. But on the term-sharing agreement, Panelo said the matter is for the  18th Congress to make the choice. 

Cayetano, a former senator who lost as  presidential candidate Duterte’s running mate  in the 2016 election,  was appointed Secretary of Foreign Affairs, and won in the 2019 midterm election as representative of Taguig. Already, after President Duterte announced his choice as Speaker, he is  gung-ho about monumental changes he is sponsoring  in the 18th Congress. 

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, president of the ruling PDP-Laban party, is reported as saying that Cayetano, who belongs to the Nacionalista Party, still has to woo his colleagues to ensure his election as speaker.

Cayetano’s chances for election will be shaky if  not all 85 PDP-Laban members in the House will vote for him as the chamber needs only a  plurality to elect a speaker, said Pimentel. Cayetano therefore must deal with the PDP-Laban members with “transparency, fairness and respect.” The  spirit of negotiations is give and take – his take is huge already, the speakership, “so there must be a give,” said Pimentel.

On top of his  monumental aspirations is scrapping the term limits prescribed by the present Constitution for senators and congressmen. He told congressmen-supporters that what he is advocating is not a “term extension” for lawmakers without the benefit of an election but a longer stay in office when elected. He said the House would have to get the Senate to support a longer term.

He clarified this, saying, “While we will push for federalism, there is a way that the Senate will agree, and that is we push either for four years with no term limit or five years  with term limit.”

Under the Constitution, House members have a term of office of three years with two reelections, or a total of nine consecutive years in office. Senators have six years, with one reelection, or a total of 12 years. 

Under his proposal, congressmen would enjoy an aditional one-year or two years in office per term, while senators would lose one year. 

Cayetano considers his proposal “a practical thing … not a political thing.”

Currently, with a term of three years, a congressman has practically one year for his lawmaking duties. He spends at least six months of his first year organizing and learning the ropes, and on the third year, he starts thinking and campaigning for the next election.

I wonder how the senators feel  about Cayetano’s proposal.

Let’s see if Cayetano is voted to the speakership by his colleagues, and what Congress will do to push federalism.

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Cotabato City recently celebrated its 60th founding anniversary with colorful pageantry plus a motocross. Thousands gathered at the city plaza to dance the Zumba and participate in the Disco sa Kalye.

“It was heart-warming to see a large crowd of Cotabateños celebrate our anniversary,” said Mayor Cynthia Guiani. “This only proved that the people were confident about going out at night, knowing that they would be safe.”

Once notorious for criminality and illegal drug trade, the city became the second in the Philippines to report the largest drop in crime rates when Guiani took over the mayorship from her older brother, Japal Jr. (The late mayor died of cardiac arrest when Cynthia was vice-mayor.)

On her first elected term, Cynthia vowed to maintain peace and order as her top priority. The city has been attracting more investors as a result of her peace and order campaign.

Her vision for her second term is to unite the city and inspire the citizens for a better community. In her oath-taking speech, she declared, “There is only one use of power and that is to serve the people of Cotabato City.”

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