Weeks after he threatened to stage a coup against Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, Davao City 1st District Representative Paolo Duterte now refuses to take sides in the rivalry between the House leader and Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Velasco.
In a statement on Thursday, October 8, the presidential son and House Deputy Speaker echoed the position taken by his father that Velasco does have the "right to assert his claim to the speakership” because of the term-sharing deal brokered by no less than President Rodrigo Duterte last year.
Having said that, however, Paolo Duterte also cited the support of a majority of lawmakers for Cayetano, based on the recent vote that rejected the Speaker's resignation offer.
He said this is why he has chosen to be neutral in the speakership race involving his “good friends.”
“It can’t be denied that such a term-sharing agreement was made before. Because of this, Congressman Velasco has the right to assert his claim to the speakership. However, we have also seen that a considerable number of our colleagues still support Speaker Cayetano,” the Davao City congressman said.
“As I am all for a unified House, and given the value I place in every member of Congress, I refuse to make any statement that will favor or damage either of my two good friends who are both asserting their right to be our Speaker,” he added.
Paolo Duterte changed his tune on the speakership race roughly 3 weeks after he threatened to unseat Cayetano upon hearing their colleagues’ complaints about the inequitable distribution of public works funds under the proposed P4.5-trillion budget in 2021.
The congressman was the catalyst of the ongoing power struggle, as his earlier threat sent Cayetano and his allies into backroom talks to snuff out the threatened ouster.
It also compounded legislators’ uncertainty if the term-sharing agreement between Cayetano and Velasco would even push through.
Under the deal, Cayetano is to serve as Speaker for the first 15 months, then Velasco takes over in the remaining 21 months.
But it remains unclear when exactly Velasco's term is supposed to begin. The President himself has not given a decisive answer on the matter either, giving Cayetano an advantage in his battle with Velasco. (READ: Duterte, Cayetano and the cards they play in the House)
Following the rivalry, Cayetano and his group moved to hastily pass on 2nd reading the proposed 2021 budget, and to suspend the session until November 16 – seen as a move to foil the Velasco speakership takeover by October 14, though the Cayetano bloc denied this. (READ: In House power play, Speaker Cayetano's Palace dreams are at stake)
Senators were outraged by Cayetano’s latest power play, warning it would derail the passage of the 2021 budget and force the government to operate on a reenacted budget once again.
Paolo Duterte said he is “saddened” by the current state of affairs in the House, where 4 ranking lawmakers allied with Velasco were already stripped of their key leadership posts.
“Due to this issue on the term-sharing agreement, Congress is currently mired in what seems to be a battle between two people I’m close with. I am saddened that it has come to this – a House divided. And if we remain a House divided, we will fail in our mandate to serve the people as their representatives,” he said.
He said “if and when” the time comes for the House to choose a new Speaker, he hopes they would pick someone who is committed to the institution and who can unify the chamber.
“And when we do make that decision, I hope we can find it in our hearts to vote for someone, not just for convenience or affiliation, but whom we feel strongly can represent the House with the dignity that it deserves,” he said.
Paolo Duterte also urged his colleagues to be respectful of one another and to “support whoever is the Speaker.”
“At the end of this episode, I hope we can go beyond politics and remember that more than power, it is the relationships we’ve formed in these halls of Congress and our duties to the people, that matter most,” he said.
The presidential son abstained from voting when Cayetano taunted Velasco by offering to resign as Speaker on September 30. The chamber resoundingly rejected the Speaker’s resignation offer. – Rappler.com
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 email@example.com or tweet @maracepeda.