Duterte’s word 'worth more than 300 votes in Congress' – Velasco ally

When the President speaks, members of the House of Representatives vote according to his wishes.

This is the harsh reality of Philippine politics pointed out by Oriental Mindoro 1st District Representative Salvador Leachon when asked in an ANC Headstart interview if the speakership takeover of his PDP-Laban party mate Lord Allan Velasco is now final, following the go-signal from President Rodrigo Duterte himself. 

“Sinabi na natin sa napakaraming panahon: the word of the President is worth more than 300 votes in Congress. Hindi natin puwedeng, mahirap tayong maging plastic doon,” Leachon said on Wednesday, September 30.

(We have long been saying this over the years: the word of the President is worth more than 300 votes in Congress. We can’t deny that; we can’t be plastic about that.)

On Tuesday night, September 29, Duterte told his former running mate and now Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano to honor the latter’s term-sharing deal with Velasco, who represents Marinduque.

The President himself had brokered this deal to help end the divisive speakership race in 2019. 

Under the agreement, Cayetano is to serve as Speaker for the first 15 months of the 18th Congress – or until October this year – then Velasco is to take over the House leadership in the 21 months after that. 

Leachon admitted on Monday that while the Constitution states the executive and legislative branches are co-equal, legislators “traditionally” tend to follow whatever the President decides.

He zeroed in on the battle for the speakership last year, when Velasco, Cayetano, and Leyte 1st District Representative Martin Romualdez were the top contenders. 

Leachon said Cayetano was initially trailing behind in the race – until Duterte intervened and green-lighted the term-sharing agreement.

This was already confirmed by a House insider whom Rappler interviewed a year ago, when lawmakers had set aside their personal dislike of Cayetano to secure the House leadership posts they wanted. 

“With all due respect with the Speaker, he was in fact even trailing behind Martin Romualdez during that time, the Majority Leader. But then, out of deference to the President and out of respect, binalewala namin ‘yun eh. ‘Yun ang gusto eh (But we disregarded it. It’s what the President wanted),” Leachon said. 

Even before Duterte rose to power, the House has long been criticized of being a rubber stamp to the President,  primarily because of the shepherding done by the Speaker to deliver what the country's chief executive needs in terms of legislative support. (READ: FAST FACTS: The role of the Speaker in Philippine Congress)

Cayetano ally counters

But it seems the Cayetano camp will not go down fighting.

In the same ANC interview, Cayetano ally and Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte said it is ultimately up to House members to decide who their Speaker will be.

After all, the House rules state that any change in the speakership would still require nominal voting among lawmakers during the plenary session. 

Villafuerte also said Velasco needs to assure their colleagues that the committee chairpersons would not be changed if ever the Marinduque congressman gets to sit as Speaker. 

“Speaker Alan will honor the agreement but the members still have to decide. We will pass the budget. We will assert our power of the purse contrary to what Lord has said and he has to convince his peers there there would be no changes in the chairmanships and we will scrutinize the budget and pass a good budget, a people’s budget,” Villafuerte said. 

The Camarines Sur 2nd District congressman also claimed Velasco said the proposed P4.5-trillion budget for 2021 would be passed as is, with no changes in the National Expenditure Program or the version of the budget as submitted by the executive to Congress.

“What does that mean? It means he would be passing it as is! Not a single peso realigned. So the congressmen are now asking, 'How can that be when we have the power power of the purse, we have the budgetary power to scrutinize the budget and make changes  to improve what we feel is right?'” said Villafuerte. 

The inequitable distribution of the 2021 budgets among the legislative districts had been the root cause of the latest power struggle to grip the House. 

The budget grumblings prompted presidential son and Deputy Speaker Paolo Duterte to make a threat saying he would ask the Mindanao bloc to unseat Cayetano.

The Speaker was able to make amends with Paolo Duterte, then immediately pointed his finger at his rival Velasco instead.

The President’s meeting with Cayetano, Velasco, and their respective allies on Tuesday night was meant to settle the term-sharing question in the House once and for all. 

Political analysts said keeping the speakership is crucial for Cayetano if he has any plans of running in the 2022 presidential elections. (READ: In House power play, Speaker Cayetano’s Palace dreams are at stake)

Cayetano, however, has repeatedly denied he is gunning for the presidency. – 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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