Is there a House coup or is Cayetano just out to scrap term-sharing with Velasco?

MANILA, Philippines – The speakership fight is reignited in the House after an alleged failed coup attempt by Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Velasco is now being used by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano to force him out of their term-sharing deal.

Multiple House insiders told Rappler that Cayetano is set to meet with lawmakers from his Nacionalista Party (NP) and the powerhouse National Unity Party (NUP) on Monday afternoon, March 2, to likely consolidate support from the influential lawmakers from the two parties amid the power shakedown in the House. 

“Bine-bait ni Cayetano si Velasco to come out. I think alam mo naman gusto 'nya na siya ang Speaker for all 3 years so I think he’s maneuvering,” one highly placed source in the House told Rappler. 

(Cayetano is baiting Velasco to come out. I think you know that he wants to be Speaker for all 3 years, so I think he’s maneuvering to make that happen.)

Cayetano and his allies are supposedly conspiring to declare the position of Speaker vacant but only with the end goal of re-electing the Taguig City-Pateros congressman for the same post.  

This would give Cayetano a “fresh” mandate as Speaker, in effect allowing him to forego his term-sharing deal with Velasco that no less than President Rodrigo Duterte had endorsed last year.  

NP has 41 members in the House, while NUP is the second biggest bloc in the lower chamber with 49 district lawmakers as members and 12 party-list legislators as allies. Cayetano – who showered lawmakers with hefty budget allocations and accommodated their requests for key House posts – also enjoy the support of the 54-strong party-list bloc and the 30 members and allies of the the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD) of Majority Leader Martin Romualdez. 

“NUP plus Nacionalista Party plus Lakas-CMD, that’s enough to elect a Speaker. He gave in to the demands of the party-list lawmakers by giving them two Deputy Speaker posts and chairmanships of sensitive committees, so he can also get the vote of the party-list bloc," the source said. 

Asked in a chance interview in Makati on Monday to confirm if he has such a plan to get a fresh mandate on the speakership, Cayetano did not give a straight answer. 

He only said that he cannot predict what House members will do at the plenary session. Still, Cayetano said that he is willing to leave his post as House Speaker if lawmakers do not want him anymore.  

“I cannot predict what’s going to happen sa (on the) floor which can happen anytime and any member can make any motion," Cayetano told reporters in Makati.

"But very clear naman ‘yong sinabi ko last week ‘di ba, na kung ayaw ‘nyo na sa akin, kung ayaw ‘nyo suportahan mga reporma na tinutulak ko, palitan nyo na ko. So definitely they’ll either have to ask me to resign or they have to move all seats are vacant,” he added.

(But what I said last week was very clear, right, that if you don't want me anymore, if you can't support the reforms I'm pushing, replace me. So definitely, they'll either have to ask me to resign or they have to move all seats are vacant.)

Under the term-sharing agreement, Cayetano is supposed to be Speaker for the first 15 months of the 18th Congress or until October this year. Velasco would then take over in the 21 months after that. 

Just ‘lost in translation’? 

Velasco already denied plotting to oust Cayetano, saying he “never had any intention of reneging” on their term-sharing deal. He said on Thursday, February 27, that camps with “vested interests” to divide the House are the ones spreading the coup rumors. 

But Cayetano just isn’t convinced.

He said 20 lawmakers supposedly told him that Velasco himself is behind the alleged ouster plot and was already offering their colleagues committee chairmanships and funds as long as they back the supposed coup.  

An ally of Velasco in the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), however, thinks the coup rumors may have been triggered by the Marinduque congressman recently meeting with some House members to “touch base” with them now that he is supposed to be months away from being Speaker. 

Deputy Speaker Johnny Pimentel, the designated PDP-Laban spokesperson in the House, said that some of those with whom Velasco met may have “misinterpreted” his intentions.  

“I really do not know where these 20 congressmen got their notion or impression that there is an oust plan. Maybe it’s because of the efforts of Congressman Lord Velasco to touch base also, to have a good relationship with the other congressmen,” Pimentel told Rappler.  

“So siguro na-misinterpret nila ‘yon. ‘Yon lang ang nakikita ko na rason. So along the way, itong tinatawag na lost in translation,” he added. 

(So maybe they misinterpreted that. That's the only reason I can think of. So along the way, it was lost in translation.)

Ploy to ‘sabotage’ Cayetano

But another Rappler source close to Cayetano said that the Velasco camp – despite their denials – are allegedly taking advantage of the criticism the Speaker is getting for sitting on the bills that would renew the soon-to-expire franchise of media network ABS-CBN. 

Lawmakers are also starting to worry over a recent statement of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) saying it would first review P80 billion worth of funds realigned by lawmakers under the 2020 budget before allowing disbursement. 

“Kasi parang pinapalabas nila si Alan is going against the grain. Tapos sa budget, wala syang magawa. As Speaker, di nya na-prioritize ‘yong mga concerns ng mga congressmen. Pero at the end of the day, sinasabotahe lang nila si Speaker,” the source said. 

(It’s seems they’re trying to show Alan is going against the grain. And that he couldn’t do anything about the budget. As Speaker, he wasn’t able to prioritize the concerns of the congressmen. But at the end of the day, they’re just sabotaging the Speaker.)

For now, Cayetano once again warned House leaders allegedly out to challenge his speakership to just leave their posts if they do not want to work with him anymore.  

“If you're going to continue the intrigues, umalis na lang kayo sa posisyon ‘nyo and then tsaka kayo bumalik pagka naging Speaker si Congressman Velasco, ‘di ba, kung kailanman ’yon. Ganon naman kasimple ‘yon eh,” he said. 

(If you are going to continue intrigues, leave your posts and then just return when Congressman Velasco becomes Speaker, whenever that may be. It’s that simple.) 

In the end, this power play will boil down to who actually has the numbers in the House. Can Velasco consolidate enough support so that the term-sharing deal that his friend, the President, has endorsed will push through, or will Cayetano prove to be too cunning for him? – Rappler.com

 

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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