House of Representatives

Cayetano removes 3 more Velasco allies from key House posts

Mara Cepeda
Cayetano removes 3 more Velasco allies from key House posts
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano makes an open declaration of war against PDP-Laban, the party-list bloc, and NPC for supporting his rival Lord Allan Velasco

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano again wielded the axe in his leadership fistfight with arch-rival Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Velasco.

During the plenary session on Tuesday, October 6, three more allies of Velasco were stripped committee chairmanships.

Quezon 4th District Representative Angelina “Helen” Tan was kicked out as committee on health chairperson, while AAMBIS-OWA Representative Sharon Garin was removed as chair of the House committee on economic affairs.

Valenzuela City 2nd District Representative Eric Martinez – Velasco’s party mate in the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) – also lost his chairmanship of the committee on youth and sports development.

The latest series of unceremonious removals was Cayetano’s open declaration of war against different House blocs who were deemed supportive of his rival Velasco. These were: PDP-Laban, the Party-list Coalition Foundation Inc (PCFI) of Garin, and the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) of Tan.

Garin, Tan, and Martinez were just the latest victims waylaid in the Cayetano-Velasco power struggle.

On October 2, PCFI president and 1-Pacman Representative Michael “Mikee” Romero was given the boot as deputy speaker, angering the party-list bloc.

“So let me assure you po: For as long as you can work with us on the budget, you can keep your post. But kung mamumulitika kayo and gagamitin ‘nyo ‘yung posisyon ‘nyo to destablize the House, decency naman,” Cayetano would later say in his speech after the removal of the 3 lawmakers from the leadership.

(So let me assure you: For as long as you can work with us on the budget, you can keep your post. But if you’re going to resort to politicking and you will use your position to destabilize the House, have some decency.)

Cayetano and his allies then moved to abruptly pass on 2nd reading the proposed 2021 budget and suspend session until November 14, amping up his power play against the Velasco bloc.

Martinez was surprised he was removed as chairman, but he knew it was coming because he was a longtime PDP-Laban stalwart.

“I was caught by surprise. Actually, I was driving, I was in the highway when I got several calls from my peers and members of my committee. I am for the 15-21 term-sharing agreement because that has been brokered over a year ago by the President himself,” Martinez said.

Martinez was puzzled Cayetano went for his head when he had strongly campaigned for the Duterte-Cayetano tandem in the 2016 elections.

As chair of the youth and sports development committee, Martinez said he also worked with Cayetano to ensure the Philippines’ hosting of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games was the “most successful games that we had here in the country.”

The Speaker headed the body that organized the controversial 2019 SEA Games.

“So that makes it more surprising. So I ask the question: Why?” Martinez said.

For her part, Tan also suspected she was replaced as committee chair because she was a member of NPC, deemed to be pro-Velasco.

“Nope, no reason at all kasi ako trabaho lang ginagawa ko. Never ako nag-go against sa Speaker, just working quietly in my committee. So nakakagulat na ako ang first chair na tinanggal nya. Except that I belong to NPC,” Tan said in a text message.

(Nope, no reason at all because I only do my job. I never go against the Speaker, just working quietly in my committee. So I’m surprised I’m the first chairperson he removed. Except that I belong to NPC.)

The replacements

No motion to reorganize influential posts in the House are made on the floor unless it is the marching order of the Speaker.

It was Deputy Majority Leader Jesus Xavier “XJ” Romualdo who formally made the motion to replace the 3 lawmakers in the House leadership. Because no one objected the motion, presiding Deputy Speaker Deogracias Victor “DV” Savellano accepted it. 

Aklan 2nd District Representative Teodorico Haresco Jr took over from Garin. Guimaras Representative Lucille Nava replaced Tan. Manila 3rd District Representative John Marvin “Yul Servo” Nieto relieved Martinez.

With at least 52 members in the House, PCFI is supposed to be entitled to one deputy speaker slot since it comprised 20% of the total membership of the chamber. Several other key House posts were also allotted for the party-list lawmakers.

These had been among the demands of PCFI before it agreed to vote Cayetano as Speaker last year. But the dynamics has now changed.

The grumbling of House members over the inequitable distribution of infrastructure funds in the 2021 budget triggered a power struggle in the chamber and compounded the legislators’ uncertainty over the implementation of the term-sharing deal between Cayetano and Velasco.

Under the agreement brokered by President Rodrigo Duterte, Cayetano is to serve as Speaker in the first 15 months of the 18th Congress, then Velasco takes over in the 21 months after that. 

But it was unclear when exactly Velasco’s term was supposed to begin, even after both aspirants met with the President on September 29 to settle the term-sharing question in the chamber.

Romero and Garin were part of Velasco’s entourage in Malacañang during that meeting. 

Faced with another impasse, Cayetano offered to step down as Speaker on September 30, only for his colleagues to refuse his resignation.

Velasco then sought another meeting with the President on Monday night, October 5. He still did not get a decisive answer from Duterte as to when exactly he would sit as Speaker. 

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Duterte merely told Velasco that it is his right to push for his speakership takeover.

Cayetano’s warning: ‘Don’t work against us’

On Monday, Cayetano already issued a warning against lawmakers whom he claimed no longer wanted to work him but were still holding on to their leadership post

“So we had to tell people, ‘di ba, na if you want to work with us, regardless kung kanino kayo, ano pulitika ‘nyo, you’re welcome and you’re welcome to remain in the leadership. Pero hindi naman pupuwede na nasa committee on rules ka, may chairmanship et cetera, then you keep working against us,” Cayetano said.

(So we had to tell people, that if you want to work with us, regardless of who you are, what your politics are, you’re welcome and you’re welcome to remain in the leadership. But you can’t be part of the committee on rules or have a chairmanship, then you keep working against us.)

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The Speaker said these lawmakers have nothing to worry about – unless they “sabotage” the House.

“We’ll continue working with you at walang problema po ‘yung mga posisyon at ‘yung mga entitlements that come with it. Ang inaano ko lang po, don’t actively, no sabotage or work against us because a House divided will fall,” said Cayetano. 

(We’ll continue working with you and there’s no problem with you keeping your position and the entitlements that come with it. My issue here is that, don’t actively sabotage or work against us because a House divided will fall.)

The Speaker’s allies already challenged the Velasco bloc to step down from their House posts last week. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.