186 lawmakers elect Velasco as Speaker while House session is suspended

Lawmakers allied with Representative Lord Allan Velasco elected him speaker on Monday, October 12, to unseat Alan Peter Cayetano while session is suspended, in unprecedented proceedings held outside the House of Representatives.

Velasco's allies staged a coup against Cayetano at the Celebrity Sports Plaza in Quezon City, less than 5 kilometers or roughly 17 minutes away from the House of Representatives compound.

Of 299 members of the House of Representatives, 186 lawmakers elected Velasco speaker during the Celebrity Sports Plaza session on Monday.

"Today, history is made once again in these august halls," Velasco said in his acceptance speech.

"At ako po, inyong abang lingkod, Lord Allan Jay Velasco, ay taus-pusong tumatanggap sa hamon na maging Speaker ng Kamara de Representante," Velasco said. (Today, history is made once again in these august halls. And I, your humble servant, Lord Allan Jay Velasco, am wholeheartedly accepting the challenge to be Speaker of the House of Representatives.)

The 42-year-old congressman thanked President Rodrigo Duterte for helping inspire young politicians like himself to be of service to the nation.

Velasco also thanked presidential children Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte and Deputy Speaker Paolo "Pulong" Duterte, as well as Senator Bong Go for their "support" in his takeover as Speaker.

"Nagpapasalamat rin ako sa tiwala at moral support ni Mayor Inday Sara Duterte, Deputy Speaker Pulong Duterte, at Senator Bong Go," said Velasco, who likewise expressed gratitude for the different House blocs and political parties who elected him. (I am also thankful for the trust and moral support of Mayor Inday Sara Duterte, Deputy Speaker Pulong Duterte, and Senator Bong Go.)

Cayetano, on the other hand, rejected Velasco's election and slammed the "fake session" at Celebrity Sports Plaza.

"The last time I checked, ang Celebrity Sports Club ay hindi Kongreso (The last time I checked, Celebrity Sports Club is not Congress)," Cayetano said in a media briefing at the Batasang Pambansa.

"If you try to burn this house down, you're in for one hell of a fight," Cayetano also told the Velasco camp.

Watch Rappler's coverage of the Celebrity Sports Plaza session below. For other live updates from Rappler, bookmark and refresh this page.

Unconventional session

The pro-Velasco group resorted to this unconventional session after the Cayetano-led House leadership refused to open the doors to the plenary hall, where sessions are usually held. 

Deputy Speaker Conrado Estrella III of Abono presided over the session, while Pampanga 3rd District Representative Juan Pablo "Rimpy" Bondoc acted as Deputy Majority Leader. 

Under House rules, lawmakers can elect a new Speaker only when the session is ongoing.

The House is technically not in session until Tuesday, October 13, the beginning of the special session called by Duterte to ensure the timely passage of the 2021 budget in the face of the House power struggle.

Last week, the Speaker and his allies railroaded the 2nd reading approval of the 2021 budget, then moved to suspend session until November 16.

Cayetano's political manuevering was seen as a move to keep himself as Speaker past October 14, the day Velasco originally pick for his takeover. 

This means the coup plotters will have to use the power of the majority to force Velasco's election as House leader. Bondoc made a motion for the House mace in the sports club to be recognized as the official one of the chamber. The legislators unanimously agreed. 

Congress session Velasco

SYMBOL OF HOUSE POWER. The improvised House mace used by the Velasco bloc during their session on October 12, 2020. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

The Velasco bloc insists the conduct of their session on Monday was constitutional. Cagayan de Oro City 2nd District Rep Rufus Rodriguez was called during the session to argue why their proceedings complied with the 1987 Constitution.

"The true manifestation of authority of each house is in the plenary when there is a majority present," Rodriguez said

"The mace is merely a symbol of authority," he added. "The mace cannot acquire a higher legal authority over the physical warm bodies and those attending electronic platforms constituting a majority."

The Velasco allies also elected Jocelia Bighai Sipin as new secretary-general. She is the Marinduque congressman's chief of staff. Retired major general Mao Aplasca was elected new sergeant-at-arms.

Cayetano resists

But Cayetano-allied Secretary General Luis Montales, whom Sipin replaced, told Rappler that the 4 official House maces are currently under the custody of House Sergeant-at-Arms Ramon Apolinario. Both Montales and Apolinario were handpicked by Cayetano for their posts.

Deputy Speaker Neptali "Boyet" Gonzales II, a veteran lawmaker allied with Cayetano, tagged the Velasco bloc-led proceedings as a "rump and illegal session."

"All the maces, old and official, are currently in the possession and safekeeping of the Sergeant-at-Arms. These prove that what they are doing is clearly a rump and illegal session where the Rules of the House will not apply and can not be used," the Mandaluyong congressman said.

The first time the House held a session outside Batasan was in January of this year in the wake of the eruption of the Taal Volcano. 

Gonzales said the Batasan session was legal, as there was a plenary resolution authorizing the conduct of such proceedings. The session at Celebrity Sports Plaza does not.

"The sessions of the House of Representatives are suspended until November 16, and there is no authority from Plenary to reconvene today. Unlike in the Batangas session, there is no plenary resolution authorizing to hold session in any other place other than in the Plenary in Batasan, contrary to the Constitution," Gonzales said. – Rappler.com

Editor's Note: An earlier version of the story stated that "Velasco's allies staged a coup against Velasco." We have corrected this to say it was "a coup against Cayetano."

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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