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MANILA, Philippines – House Deputy Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo dispelled rumors that she was plotting a coup to steal the chamber’s top post from her mentee and party mate Speaker Martin Romualdez.
Arroyo issued a 14-paragraph statement on Thursday, May 18, a sharp contrast from the six-word reply she gave to the media the previous day, in the wake of the House leadership’s move demoting her from senior to a regular deputy speaker.
The former president admitted she initially gunned for the speakership in the 19th Congress last year, soon after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was elected, but stood down after realizing that Marcos wanted his cousin to lead the House. Arroyo said she saw the “wisdom embedded” in that decision, because the “relationship of trust” between a president and a House speaker was essential given the Senate’s traditional role of independence from the executive.
“When President Marcos won, I wanted to aspire for the Speakership of the House. But it soon became apparent that he was most comfortable with then Congressman Martin Romualdez as Speaker,” the Pampanga representative said.
Arroyo cited a trip with fellow lawmakers to South Korea in March which may have been “misconstrued” as an attempt to rally her colleagues against Romualdez, but she insisted there was nothing to it.
“It should be noted that being speaker once more is no longer part of my political objectives. This has been my position ever since Speaker Romualdez was elected in the 19th Congress, and I continue to urge my Lakas-CMD party mates to support our party president in that role,” she said.
“By this disavowal, I hope that we can preempt any needless politicking so that the House and our President can focus on the job at hand with minimum distraction,” Arroyo added.
What previously happened
Arroyo’s demotion came as a surprise, a move that the House leadership made in the final minutes of the plenary session on Wednesday, May 17, in a hall full of empty chairs and empty tables, as most members were in attendance virtually.
Basically, Arroyo lost the “senior” title in her House deputy speakership to Pampanga 3rd District Representative Dong Gonzales.
House Majority Leader Mannix Dalipe said the shakeup sought to relieve Arroyo of the “heavy load” that comes with the title.
But while it is clear that a deputy speaker – the House’s second highest ranking official – presides over plenary sessions in the absence of the House speaker, among other tasks, a senior deputy speaker does not have extra responsibilities, based on House rules. In short, it is an honorary title at best.
Over an hour after the plenary session ended on Wednesday night, Arroyo only said the move “is the prerogative of the House,” a response so brief it triggered speculations she was not particularly happy with the move.
“I congratulate Dong, and I hope his new position will help him fulfill his mandate to represent our fellow Kapampangans,” Arroyo, who represents Pampanga’s 2nd District, said on Thursday night.
Maintaining a united front
After rumors swirled that there were cracks in the House leadership, power blocs in the chamber consecutively issued statements on Thursday in support of Romualdez.
The press releases were sent using the House media affairs’ official email address, suggesting that the line of messaging was a coordinated effort.
Among those which reaffirmed their commitment to Romualdez’s leadership were:
- Nacionalista Party (through Deputy Speaker Camille Villar and Surigao del Norte 2nd District Representative Ace Barbers)
- PDP-Laban (through Gonzales and Palawan 2nd District Representative Jose Alvarez)
- National Unity Party (through Deputy Speaker Roberto Puno)
- House minority (through 4Ps Representative Nonoy Libanan)
“The election of Representative Gonzales shows the strong ties and cooperation between the Speaker’s party Lakas-CMD and PDP-Laban in serving the Filipino people,” said Alvarez, who is the president of PDP-Laban.
“The Nacionalista Party expresses its unequivocal support to the leadership of Speaker Martin Romualdez of the House of Representatives as we remain fully committed to the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to its vision of a united and prosperous nation,” added Villar, spokesperson for Nacionalista Party.
Ties that bind
The supermajority in the House is a fragile alliance composed of politicians with overlapping and competing interests.
Romualdez and Arroyo are ranking officers of Lakas-CMD, the political machinery which catapulted Sara Duterte to the vice presidency in 2022.
PDP Laban, the ruling party during the previous administration which has now suffered a decline in numbers, remains a key power player in the lower chamber. It’s the party of Vice President Sara’s father, former president Rodrigo Duterte.
Arroyo is known as a savvy and vicious political operator, who survived one scandal after another during her nine-year presidency, from 2001 to 2010.
She did not retire after that, and instead ran for Congress, and won. She was detained in 2012 over plunder charges, but was ultimately cleared, and she walked free after four years of arrest.
In 2018, Arroyo unseated then-Davao del Norte lawmaker Pantaleon Alvarez as House Speaker, following a successful ouster plot.
In her statement on Thursday, Arroyo acknowledged that she had a history of reneging on her declarations, such as when she ran for president in 2004 despite publicly declaring in 2002 that she wouldn’t.
But she insisted that there were serious national security concerns at the time that convinced her to change her mind – factors which she said are no longer present now as she asserted she no longer has speakership aspirations.
“This time, I am a mere congresswoman, so issues of national importance no longer depend on my role in Congress. Thus, I have no compelling reasons to change my mind about foregoing my ambitions for the speakership,” she said. – Rappler.com