FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - September 29, 2020 - 12:00am

From all semblances, the 15-21 term sharing arrangement for Speaker of the House has been set aside.

Over 200 congressmen from the pro-administration “super-majority” have signed a statement asking incumbent Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano to carry on. Like icing on the cake, the minority bloc likewise issued a statement supporting the incumbent Speaker’s continuation at the post.

With those two separate signed statements issued over the weekend, we could consider the speakership question closed. There is simply no way the alignments could be significantly altered over the next few weeks when the term-sharing arrangement is supposed to be executed.

In our political history, term-sharing arrangements hardly ever worked. The one between Alan Peter Cayateno and Lord Allan Velasco is not about to break the trend.

To begin with, a term-sharing agreement is not a legal contract. From the very start, it suffers from being judicially unenforceable. It is subject to the vagaries of political happenstance.

Second, an agreement between two individuals about how a term will be shared militates against the collegiality of the chamber they lead. The House of Representatives as well as the Senate are collegial bodies. Every representative stands as equal in the course of legislative business, including the choice of who will occupy leadership posts. Every disagreement is settled by vote.

Third, it is beyond President Duterte’s powers to enforce a term-sharing agreement. He could only stand as some sort of witness to an unwritten agreement. He will be over-reaching his authority to meddle in the affairs of an independent branch of government.

The support Cayetano enjoys from his colleagues is hardly surprising.

From the day he assumed the post 14 months ago, he diligently organized the chamber to ensure each colleague was as happy as they could possibly be. He named an entire platoon to serve as deputy speakers, carefully allocating the post to all the major parties and factions in the assembly. This included elevating party-list representatives – long regarded as second-class congressmen – to powerful posts.

In fact, he even offered Lord Allan Velasco to serve as deputy speaker so that he may keep abreast of all developments and learn the ropes of congressional politics while he waits his turn. Velasco refused the offer and henceforth became an invisible member of the House. He introduced no legislative measure of note and was absent in nearly all the majority caucuses.

In politics, idleness is fatal. When the moment for applying the term-sharing agreement neared, a prominent voice in the chamber faulted Velasco for doing nothing. He contributed nothing to the deliberations and added no value to helping get things done.

“He did not work, he did not contribute, he did not defend this House, he did not lead. So why expect us to follow him?” intoned the irrepressible Fredenil Castro in a speech on the floor last week. His observation resonated in the chamber.

Velasco countered that he intentionally maintained a low profile to keep from getting in Cayetano’s way as the incumbent Speaker coached and coaxed a very large chamber to get work done. Keeping a “low profile” is a lame excuse. It did create the impression among the congressmen that Velasco rested his fate entirely on his friendship with President Duterte’s son and daughter.

That could not be a sustainable path to winning the trust and confidence of his colleagues at the House.

Velasco should have realized from the very beginning that he had to work hard and learn fast to deserve the post he aspired for. He was, after all, starting with a very large deficit in experience and political capital. Prior to winning his seat representing the island-province of Marinduque, Velasco worked for his father’s office at the Supreme Court and then as administrator for his province. In his short life as legislator, he is not credited with crafting any major law.

Cayetano, by contrast, has been accumulating experience and political capital ever since he served as city councilor while still studying law. He served several productive terms as congressman and senator. He ran as Duterte’s runningmate in 2016 and served as secretary of foreign affairs after Perfecto Yasay was forced to vacate that post on citizenship issues.

Cayetano is proud of 43 bills he principally authored, six of which were passed into law. These were: the Public Employment Service Office (PESO) Act; the Granting of Additional Compensation In Form of Special Allowances for Justices, Judges and All other Positions in the Judiciary; the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001; the Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003; An Act Governing the Establishment, Operations and Regulation of Lending Companies; An Act to Strengthen the University of the Philippines as National University; the Anti-Camcording Act of 2010; the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010; Strengthening of the Magna Carta for PWDs; An Act Providing for Mandatory Basic Immunization Services For Infants and Children; and the Domestic Workers Act (Kasambahay Law).

During the past months he served as Speaker, Cayetano presided over an unprecedentedly productive chamber. He saw through the timely passage of the national budget for this year as well as the Bayanihan I and II emergency spending acts to help government fight the pandemic. He also saw through urgent fiscal reform legislation such as CITIRA – although this has been trapped in the Senate even as certified urgent by the President.

It is easy to understand why the vast majority of congressmen see a transfer of leadership at this time to be impracticable. In this critical time, the House needs an experienced hand to lead it.

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