The broader view - Harry Roque - The Philippine Star

Will the real “Ferdinand” please stand up? Who between the Chief Executive and the House Speaker – namesakes and cousins – is the one running the country? In the last six months, I have received such loaded questions from my social media followers and political supporters.

Foremost, let me say that President Bongbong Marcos Jr. has the trust and goodwill of the Filipino people. Speaker Martin Romualdez, on the other hand, is much-loved by his fellow congressmen. Perhaps, he might become the most popular Lower House leader in history.

Based on a December Pulse Asia survey, the President (trust rating: 73 percent and approval rating: 68 percent), along with Vice President Sara Duterte (trust: 78 percent, approval: 74 percent), continues to enjoy majority support. By comparison, the Tacloban solon is the most disapproved (13 percent) and distrusted (14 percent) among our four highest-ranking officials. Despite the poor showing in performance and presidential surveys, Romualdez continues to wield a considerable influence on key legislative and even executive matters.

Given a fragmented UniTeam alliance, the impasse in Congress over the Charter change initiative and the contrasting policy views between PBBM and Martin of late, not a few of my followers have pointed out a leadership vacuum in government.

The leadership issue is a problem that PBBM must resolutely and expeditiously address, according to former president Rodrigo Duterte. Otherwise, it will become an open invitation for military adventurism and possible takeover. FPRRD expressed this apprehension to me three days ago. Both of us do not want our motherland to be controlled by the barrel of the gun, similar to what the people of Thailand and Myanmar have experienced.

Moreover, the former president supports PBBM and VP Sara as duly-elected officials. The tandem received the largest mandate since the 1981 landslide presidential victory of the elder Marcos. As public servants, they have a steady hold on the confidence and satisfaction of the people. Mayor Digong said PBBM must consistently demonstrate to the nation his judicious control of the executive department and firm command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). That no presidential relative, friend or associate can override his powers as head of state and government. That Marcos is unafraid to make tough decisions in the name of our national interests, even if he alienates those closest to him.

While the Constitution gives primacy to civilian authority over the military, it mandates the AFP to protect the Republic and the people. Therefore, the lack of solid and galvanizing leadership on the President’s part would most likely tempt the military to replace his government with a puppet state. Digong swore that no Duterte, himself included, would ever become a figurehead for any dummy regime. His family would only participate in democratic, constitutional and legal processes. I hope this puts a Duterte-led destabilization rumor against PBBM to permanent rest.


In recent months, the Speaker seems to be out of tune with the President. Martin has defied some of PBBM’s wishes on contentious issues.

In his first year in office, Marcos said there was no need to tinker with economic provisions under the 1987 Constitution to achieve national economic growth and prosperity. Last December, the National Economic and Development Authority declared that the Philippines was one of the strongest economies in Asia in 2023. The Speaker, meanwhile, has prioritized changing the economic aspects of the Constitution. Last year, the Lower House passed a resolution calling for Charter change via a constitutional convention. Fortunately, the Senate rejected this proposal. (Unfortunately, PBBM has changed his earlier position.)

Then came the so-called people’s initiative spearheaded by PIRMA or the People’s Initiative for Reform Modernization and Action. It should be called a politician’s initiative instead, following the exposé of some legislators that congressmen are directly involved in gathering signatures per legislative district. The Senate wants to investigate the alleged P20-million mobilization fund for each representative, as well as the P100 bribe per voter’s signature. A bone of contention is the House proposal that the bicameral should vote jointly instead of separately in modifying the Constitution. As expected, this does not sit well with our nationally-elected senators. All 12 senators garnered at least 15 million votes nationwide. Again, may I remind our legislators that a people’s initiative can only amend and not revise the Constitution, unlike a constitutional convention  or a constituent assembly (Lambino vs. Comelec).

To resolve the bicameral tension, PBBM convened a meeting between the leaders of both Houses. Reportedly, the President directed the Senate to lead the constitutional amendments. However, the signature campaign continued in congressional districts. This could only mean that the Speaker has defied the President’s directive.

The ongoing investigation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on the anti-drug war campaign in the Philippines is another issue wherein the Speaker has diverged from the President. PBBM has consistently said the Philippines will not cooperate with The Hague Tribunal due to lack of jurisdiction. For the 100th time, he emphasized that the country will not assist the Court in any way, shape or form. He has ordered all government agencies, including the police and local government units, to desist from participating in any ICC-related probe. I laud the President for dismissing the calls of the Lower House for the Executive branch to cooperate fully with the Court. It also signifies one thing: the Speaker cannot always use Congress as a weapon against his political rivals such as FPRRD and Inday Sara.

The Speaker has become a divisive figure in government and, by extension, to the Marcos administration. Not only has Martin antagonized and alienated the powerful Duterte camp, but he has also ruffled the feathers of the senators of the Republic. There is no other recourse for the President at this point. To prove he is the one, true “Ferdinand” in charge of the country, he must give up on the presidential cousin. It is time for a healing and unifying legislator at the helm of the House of Representatives.

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