President Rodrigo Duterte asked Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano to give way to Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Velasco as new Speaker in a meeting he held with lawmakers on Tuesday, September 29.
"It was the agreement and it was enforced during the time they were discussing among the 3 of them. The question was only as to when, but both parties agreed before the President on October 14," said Oriental Mindoro 1st District Representative Salvador "Doy" Leachon in an ANC interview.
Duterte faced the contingent from the House at the Malacañang Golf Clubhouse, after which he held a separate meeting with Cayetano, Velasco and his longtime aide and now senator Bong Go.
"It was stated very clearly. Well, the position of course of the President, even during the time it was being impressed upon us, the nature of the conversation, is to enforce definitely," Leachon, Velasco's PDP-Laban party mate, also said.
Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte, an ally of Cayetano's, said the October 14 date for Velasco's turn at the Speakership was "not clear." But he said the lawmakers did agree with Duterte's wish to abide by the term-sharing deal.
"The President expressed his desire to honor the term-sharing. We all agreed. Speaker Alan clearly said, 'Sir, we will follow you. If you want me to resign, I will resign any day,'" said Villafuerte on ANC.
But Cayetano said he could not speak for the majority of his allies in the House. According to Villafuerte, the Cayetano allies at the meeting expressed support for his continued leadership and "appealed that we cannot change the commanding general of the House in the middle of the war against [COVID-19]."
Duterte listened to them then pulled aside Cayetano and Velasco for a talk, which lasted for around 10 to 15 minutes. When it was over, Cayetano told the other lawmakers that he would explain what transpired in another venue.
To the Cayetano camp's surprise, lawmakers allied with Velasco told media that Velasco was the new Speaker.
"How can you be new Speaker? You still need to be voted upon, right?" said Villafuerte.
Velasco, a family friend of Duterte's and someone who has also enjoyed friendship with his influential eldest daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, earlier called on Cayetano to respect the agreement.
But Cayetano has the backing of the supermajority and minority blocs, who say the speakership must not change in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque had previously said Duterte was inclined to let Cayetano stay on if he had the support of more House members.
Malacañang had advised Velasco to gather more support for his Speakership in the lower chamber.
“After a year and a half, as I said, the members of Congress should know better on who is best to lead them,” said Roque in a CNN Philippines interview last September 23.
“The issue is, will that gentleman’s agreement bind every single member of Congress? And that’s why the President recognized that, whereas the agreement is valid on the two congressmen, Speaker Cayetano and Congressman Velasco, it does not necessarily bind the 300 or so members of Congress,” he added.
Roque had also said that Duterte wanted Cayetano to stay as Speaker until at least December due to the President's wish for the 2021 budget to be passed on time.
“The President also in that same occasion told me that he will understand if Cayetano’s term will last until December because of the issue of the budget,” said Roque.
Leadership changes in the House while the budget is being deliberated could delay its passage.
Cayetano was Duterte’s running mate in the 2016 elections and was eventually appointed foreign affairs secretary. In 2019, he ran for congressman representing Taguig-Pateros, after supposedly being assured by Duterte that he would become Speaker.
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.