Hit the ground running
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - July 19, 2019 - 12:00am

As far as Albay Congressman Joey Salceda knows, comebacking Taguig Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano will be officially installed as the Speaker of the House of Representatives when the 18th Congress opens on Monday.

There is no doubt about it and Salceda believes this is already a foregone conclusion of the bitterly fought three-cornered Speakership race.

It was over after President Rodrigo Duterte stepped into this House leadership contest of the three aspirants. The presidential intervention came as the ceremonial opening of the 18th Congress is drawing closer with no clear signs of backing out from anyone of them.

Despite initial hesitance to intervene into internal affairs of a co-equal branch of government, the President finally gave his nod to the “15-21” term-sharing to keep intact his administration alliances with all political parties involved.

The “15-21 term-sharing” scheme would be between Cayetano and Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco in which the Taguig Congressman is to serve for the first 15 months while the latter would succeed him for the remaining 21 months. The third speakership contender, Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez would be elected instead as House Majority Leader for the entire term of the 18th Congress ending on June 30, 2022.

With the House leadership lineup firmed up, Salceda is looking forward to President Duterte delivering right on time his state of the nation address (SONA) at the joint opening sessions of the 18th Congress on Monday afternoon. Salceda was our featured guest in this week’s Kapihan sa Manila Bay at Café Adriatico in Malate, Manila. 

Still fresh in the mind was the tumultuous opening of the 17th Congress last year when erstwhile Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez found himself being ousted minutes before the President was to deliver his SONA. As it turned out later, presidential daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte engineered a House coup against Alvarez and installed former president and Pampanga Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as the new Speaker. Along with fellow former Cabinet members at the 17th Congress, Salceda was among those who later joined Mrs. Arroyo to become members of PDP-Laban.

The Albay Congressman sought to douse the much-rumored House coup in the offing purportedly by those disgruntled by the presidential endorsement of Cayetano’s term-sharing proposal that was earlier opposed by the camp of Velasco.

“All I’m saying is the President made a suggestion, he hasn’t changed it,” Salceda told us in our weekly Kapihan sa Manila Bay breakfast news forum last Wednesday. It goes without saying there won’t be a repeat of last year’s dramatic ouster of Alvarez that stalled the President’s SONA moment.

Salceda explained the term-sharing arrangement between the two presumptive House Speakers would also include the distribution of chairmen and vice chairmen and memberships to about 60 standing House committees, the House panel in the powerful Commission on Appointments, and, at the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal.

“There is enough for the talents of everyone,” Salceda quipped, adding, “We’ll make it work.”

It was not an easy win for Cayetano in the bitterly fought Speakership race. A former Duterte Cabinet member, Cayetano counted much on the support of the former Davao City Mayor with whom he ran but lost as vice presidential candidate during the May 2016 elections.

Cayetano’s bid got much resistance from the President’s politician children, Mayor Sara and neophyte Congressman Paolo “Pulong” Duterte. As leader of her own Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP), Mayor Sara strongly objected to Cayetano’s Speakership bid due to the latter’s purported political ambitions in the May 2022 presidential elections. Nonetheless, both Mayor Sara and Pulong agreed to meet with Cayetano and the two other Speakership contenders to help broker the impasse. It was unsuccessful though.

Even after the President finally sealed the “15-21” term-sharing, Pulong still made the rumor mills start grinding when he claimed about a supposed House coup being in the works against those opposed to Cayetano becoming a Speaker.

But it would be “wishful thinking,” said Salceda who quoted President Duterte’s retort to those who continue to harbor thoughts of a supposed House coup to install a Speaker other than Cayetano when the House will finally vote for the new leaders of the Lower Chamber.

Salceda, who originally rooted for Romualdez in the Speakership race, noted with satisfaction that the Leyte Congressman also got an early commitment of President Duterte’s support. This was when President Duterte publicly endorsed Romualdez as his chosen vice presidential bet in the coming May 2022 elections.

Of the three contenders, it is only Velasco who belongs to the President’s own PDP-Laban party. Incidentally, the ruling administration party also had 3 contenders to the Speakership contest earlier but eventually picked Velasco who got the HNP support of Mayor Sara and Pulong.

On the other hand, Cayetano belongs to the Nacionalista Party while Romualdez is the president of the Lakas-CMD.

Before any House coup rumors erupt anew, Mayor Sara announced yesterday she would not be able to fly to Manila and attend the SONA. Currently on a 60-day medical leave, she revealed suffering from unspecified gynecological condition that prevents her from joining the SONA. Younger brother Vice Mayor Sebastian “Baste” Duterte has taken over as “acting” Mayor during her absence from Davao City Hall.

Their brother Pulong, being a freshman lawmaker, is expected to attend the SONA. This would be his first time ever along with other 113 neophyte first-termers to see action at the Lower House. So all’s well, that ends well?

While citing it would be up to the 306 members of the Lower House who they would elect as their own leaders, Salceda fearlessly predicted the new super majority now in the 18th Congress would surely heed the President’s “term-sharing” endorsement.

Salceda is confident the 18th Congress will hit the ground running and deliver the legislative agenda of President Duterte in the remaining half of his term.

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