When the Speaker is chosen, wake me
POSTSCRIPT - Federico D. Pascual Jr. (The Philippine Star) - October 1, 2020 - 12:00am

My column today about the Speaker of the House of Representatives was unduly delayed for two reasons: (1) the race for the speakership had taken a sudden detour to Malacañang and (2) whenever I sat down to type out my thoughts I often got sleepy.

I wasted time yesterday waiting for an announcement of who President Duterte has anointed as Speaker – either incumbent Alan Peter Cayetano, 50, or Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, 42, who both agreed in July last year on a term-sharing deal brokered by the President.

The gentlemen’s “15-21” agreement gave Cayetano the first 15 months that ended yesterday and Velasco the remaining 21 months of the current 18th Congress.

As September wore on, signs started to pop up that Cayetano wanted to stay. His lieutenants claimed having sewn up the votes of at least 200 of the 300-odd members of the House. The President stepped in to forestall a counter-productive impasse.

We did not expect Duterte to proclaim his “anointed one.” The myth must be maintained that the Speaker is elected by the members of the House and not imposed on them by an over-reaching President.

The word was out yesterday, however, that it was agreed in the meeting of the contenders in Malacañang that Velasco will be installed as Speaker on Oct. 14. Note that that is still two weeks from today.

(Re my getting sleepy, a minor personal detail, travel restrictions due to Covid-19 have locked me in a place where it is daytime when I should be catching up on my night sleep. My workplace is wherever my laptop, smartphone and credit card happen to be when I gather myself to beat my Manila deadline.)

A Nacionalista Party member, Cayetano has cobbled a supermajority with other parties using the bountiful resources of the House. Imagine naming some 40 “Deputy Speakers” and about that many “Assistant Majority Leaders” plus countless committee chairmanships.

All those designations entitle holders to extra perks, which they will lose once Velasco takes over. Of course, the new Speaker will continue the patronage, but it will be his people sporting the coveted titles and enjoying all appurtenances thereto.

A stalwart of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), Velasco is reportedly backed by the President’s daughter Davao Mayor Sara Duterte and others close to the emerging Davao dynasty.

Velasco has been quietly waiting for his turn as Speaker. But the power foreshocks in the last few weeks heightened as wrangling surfaced over the uneven distribution of public works allocations in the proposed 2021 budget.

His laid-back style has given rise to criticisms that he does not have the forceful character of one who wants to lead a chamber of some 300 congressmen wanting to get the most of their being in the House.

Velasco’s detractors (synonymous to Cayetano’s supporters) cited his having been missing in action when Duterte needed wide support for his Anti-Terrorism Act, the junking of the ABS-CBN franchise renewal and the passing of the Bayanihan 1 and 2 laws.

But Velasco suddenly found his voice – although it did not have the deafening decibels of a supermajority -- when it was time to remind everybody of the supposed gentlemen’s agreement with Cayetano.

We have given up on Cayetano, after seeing how he operates, and looked forward to a Velasco. But having noticed the latter’s naiveté of expecting palabra de honor from a grizzled dealer, we now wonder if the gentleman from Marinduque has what it takes to lead the House.

• Phl economy to shrink by 6.9 percent in 2020

The World Bank sees the Philippine economy contracting by 6.9 percent in 2020 before rebounding to 5.3 percent in 2021 and 5.6 percent in 2022 – a drawn-out process that could slow down its rapid poverty reduction in recent years.

Economic growth averaged 6.6 percent from 2015 to 2019, the WB said, resulting from prudent macro-fiscal management, significant investments in infrastructure and human capital, and favorable external conditions. It said robust growth in household incomes reduced the national poverty rate from 23.5 percent in 2015 to 16.7 percent in 2018.

The WB update released Tuesday said: “Social assistance to poor and vulnerable families as well as micro and small enterprises will help cushion the impact of COVID-19 and hasten recovery in the Philippines.

“The COVID-19 shock is now abruptly pushing the economy into recession and threatening these economic and social gains. The pandemic has triggered declines in remittances of Filipino overseas workers and job losses caused by strict containment measures.”

Ndiamé Diop, WB director for Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand, said: “In the short-term, every peso put directly in the hands of poor and vulnerable families through social assistance translates into demand for basic goods and services in local communities, which in turn supports micro and small enterprises and the government’s recovery efforts.

“One cannot overemphasize the importance of improvements in public health management including testing, tracing, isolating and treatment to effectively control the spread of COVID-19 and secure a definitive recovery.”

WB senior economist Rong Qian said that the economy is expected to rebound to 5.3 percent and 5.6 percent growth in 2021 and 2022, respectively. This assumes that the country successfully manages COVID-19 transmission – or that no major spikes in cases lead to further lockdowns.

In this scenario, she said, businesses and households regain confidence and the government continues to roll out its infrastructure program. Base effects, or the numbers tending to be high because coming from a negative base, will prop up growth in 2021 while the elections in May 2022 will boost activities in late 2021 through 2022.

*      *      *

Nota Bene: All Postscripts are archived at manilamail.com. Author is on Twitter as @FDPascual.

Email: fdp333@yahoo.com

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