The four most durable and effective speakers of the House
WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez (The Freeman) - October 12, 2020 - 12:00am

There have been nine speakers of the Lower House from 1898 to 1944, and another 14 from 1945 to 2020. I choose only the four most durable and effective builders of consensus and teams. They are Don Sergio Osmeña Sr., Jose P. Laurel, Jr., Cornelio Villareal, and Joe de Venecia.

The longest tenure was that of Don Sergio, the first speaker of the National Assembly, at age 29 in 1907. He continued to lead the House up to 1922 or for a continuous span of 15 years, without interruption, and with no one daring to oust him, from the first legislature up to the fifth. He was replaced by Don Manuel A. Roxas, when Don Sergio was elected to the Senate from 1922 to 1935. Don Sergio was the founder of the Nacionalista Party. Roxas was also an NP but bolted the party when Don Sergio won over him in the NP Convention. Roxas then founded the Liberal Party. The NP and the LP were our version of the Democrat-Republican rivalry in the US. Our two-part system used to be strong, until Marcos mangled it and established his KBL, which was a behemoth whose followers were all largely beholden to him alone.

Roxas was speaker from 1922 to 1933. He was replaced by the great Ilocano, Don Quintin Paredes, also an NP, who led the assembly only from 1933 to 1935. An Ilonggo NP, Gil Montilla was elected speaker from 1935 to 1938, then replaced by the multi-millionaire Jose Yulo, who was speaker from 1939 to 1941. When Japan occupied the Philippines, a puppet government was installed, with Jose P. Laurel, Sr. as president and Benigno S. Aquino, Sr. as speaker of the assembly from 1943 to 1944. After the liberation, an Ilonggo NP, Jose Zulueta was elected speaker and held office from 1945 to 1946. He was the speaker of the first Congress under the Republic of the Philippines. The second Congress had Eugenio Perez, an LP from Pangasinan as speaker from 1946 to 1953.

The second most durable speaker was Joe de Venecia. He was speaker from 1992 to 1998 in the 8th and 9th Congress. He was replaced by Manny Villar from 1998 to 2000, followed by Arnulfo Fuentebella in 2000 to 2001. He was elected again and held the speakership from 2001 to 2008. That was the time he visited me in Kuala Lumpur where I served as labor attaché. He was replaced by Prospero Nograles from 2008 to 2010 in the 14th Congress. De Venecia was a very good consensus builder; he had the skills to make political opponents work together around a common agenda for the good of the whole nation. Joe could work with any president and any local officials. He was a man of vision, and also a man of action. It was a pity that he was beaten by Erap when he ran for president.

The other two speakers who were both durable were Jose P. Laurel, speaker from 1954 to 1957 in the third Congress, and from 1967 to 1971 in the sixth and seventh Congress. He was an NP. The last one I truly respect was Speaker Cornelio Villareal, an LP, who served in the sixth and seventh Congress from 1962 to 1967 and then again from 1971 to 1972 in the seventh Congress, which was abruptly interrupted by the declaration of Martial Law. In 1976 to 1984, retired chief justice Querube Makalintal was elected speaker of the Interim Batasang Pambansa. He was followed by Nicanor Yñiguez of Southern Leyte from 1984 to 1986. Laurel and Villareal were both very strong leaders who had the complete respect and loyalty of their respective partymates.

Alan Peter Cayetano and Lord Alan Jay Velasco can learn so much from the lessons left by speakers Don Sergio, Joe de Venecia, Peping Laurel, and Kune Villareal. It will take many years for them to acquire the savvy, the acumen, and the stature and credibility of these four great Filipinos.

SERGIO OSMENA SR.
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