House of Representatives

Velasco allies confirm plot to oust Cayetano by October 12

Mara Cepeda
Velasco allies confirm plot to oust Cayetano by October 12
With the House not in session, allies of Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Velasco will have to use the power of the majority to elect him as their leader

Allies of speaker-in-waiting Lord Allan Velasco are plotting to oust his rival Alan Peter Cayetano as House Speaker on Monday morning, October 12.

This was confirmed to Rappler by 3 of Velasco’s party mates in the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), two Mindanao lawmakers, and one congressional insider privy to the ouster plot.

In a copy of their manifesto sent to Rappler, the Velasco allies claim they have at least 187 votes to secure the Marinduque congressman’s takeover as Speaker. This is already a majority of the chamber, since there are a total of 299 sitting legislators.

This number of votes is also 3 more than the 184 lawmakers who decided to reject Cayetano’s offer to resign as House leader on September 30.

Oriental Mindoro 1st District Representative Salvador “Doy” Leachon sent Rappler a copy of the manifesto early Monday – a day earlier than the special session called by President Rodrigo Duterte to ensure the proposed 2021 national budget would be passed on time.

The manifesto was then confirmed by his party mates Albay 2nd District Representative Joey Salceda and Valenzuela City 2nd District Representative Eric Martinez, who was among the 4 Velasco allies whom Cayetano booted out of the House leadership.

Cagayan de Oro City 2nd District Representative Rufus Rodriguez and Davao City 3rd District Representative Isidro Ungab also told Rappler they signed the manifesto.

“Therefore, in accordance with Section 13, Rule 3 of the Rules of the House of Representatives, of the 18th Congress, we call to assemble, move to and cast our vote to declare the position of Speaker VACANT on Monday, October 12, 2020,” the manifesto read.

“Further, also in accordance with the same Section, we will move to and cast our vote to declare Representative Lord Allan Velasco of Marinduque as Speaker of the House of Representatives of the 18th Congress,” the manifesto added.

Not mincing words against Cayetano, the Velasco allies said the chamber is in need of a leader “with a heart of a public servant, and not with a heart of a tyrant.”

They slammed the Speaker and his allies’ for railroading the 2nd reading approval of the proposed P4.5-trillion budget for 2021 and for immediately moving 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. 

The Velasco allies said they would reopen deliberations on the 2021 budget “after establishing the stability among the ranks of members of the House of Representatives.”

As of posting, Martinez said more lawmakers are planning to sign the manifesto.

“That’s why that number will move up for sure today,” the PDP-Laban congressman said in a mix of English and Filipino.

The ouster plot comes a day after Cayetano’s allies warned any effort to replace him as Speaker during the October 13 to 16 special session called by Duterte would derail the passage of the 2021 budget.

The Chief Executive himself had brokered a “15-21” term-sharing deal between his allies Cayetano and Velasco.

But it remains unclear when exactly Velasco is supposed to take over, leading to the power struggle that continues to grip the Batasang Pambansa. (READ: Duterte, Cayetano and the cards they play in the House)

The Cayetano ouster was hatched after Velasco revealed that Duterte supposedly felt “duped” by Cayetano’s ploy to extend his term as Speaker. (READ: In House power play, Speaker Cayetano’s Palace dreams are at stake)

Roughly 3 weeks ago, presidential son and Deputy Speaker Paolo Duterte threatened to unseat Cayetano upon hearing their colleagues’ complaints about the inequitable distribution of public works funds in the 2021 budget.

But he changed his tune on October 8, saying he would not take sides in the Cayetano-Velasco rivarly.

Presidential daughter and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, meanwhile, said Velasco met with her recently in Davao City to discuss Hugpong Ng Pagbabago (HNP), the political alliance she helms.

“He intimated that there will be a Speakership vote, and he sought for my help, as the Chairperson of HNP, with regard to the votes of the 3 HNP Congressmen from Davao Region,” she said in a statement.

“I told him that HNP was created to propel unity and development in Davao Region and assist the administration of President Duterte. I also emphasized that HNP will respect the term-sharing agreement as ordered by the President last year and reiterated that the party fully supports Presidential Proclamation 1027.”

Senators already warned the bitter rivalry between the Cayetano and Velasco is placing the timely passage of the 2021 budget under peril.

It forced Duterte to warn House members that he would step in if they cannot ensure the passage of next year’s budget on time.

The President also called Congress to hold a special session on October 13 to 16 to ensure the 2021 budget’s passage would not be delayed.

How will the ouster happen?

On Monday morning, the pro-Velasco lawmakers are set to gather at the plenary hall in Batasan to declare the position of Speaker vacant, a motion that formally sets the stage for a coup d’état. The rest of the Velasco allies will join the proceedings via Zoom.

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

This means the coup plotters will have to use the power of the majority to force an election to happen during a session not sanctioned by the Cayetano-led House leadership.

They will have to nominate Velasco for Speaker, then conduct nominal voting to elect him as their new leader. 

Rappler’s sources said the pro-Velasco lawmakers met in at least two venues in Quezon City on Sunday to sign a manifesto declaring their support for his takeover. They also underwent their antigen tests for the coronavirus to observe health protocols.

Such proceedings in the plenary were earlier floated by Buhay Representative Lito Atienza, a supporter of Velasco. But Deputy Speaker Neptali “Boyet” Gonzales II, a Cayetano ally, said this would be an “illegal” session. 

But there is precedent for what Velasco and his allies are planning to do. 

Two years ago, then allies of then-speaker Alvarez immediately suspended session when it was clear that the Arroyo bloc was about to stage a coup.

The House’s mace – the symbol of the chamber’s legislative authority – was hidden by pro-Alvarez lawmakers, and they even turned off the microphone at the plenary hall.

But none of these tactics worked. With sheer majority on their side, the disgruntled House members were able to hold their election proceedings that successfully made Arroyo the new Speaker of the House. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

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 mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.