House of Representatives

The power of Yedda Romualdez, Lady of the House and wife of the Speaker

Dwight de Leon

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The power of Yedda Romualdez, Lady of the House and wife of the Speaker

Photos by Darren Langit/Rappler, House of Representatives; graphics by Alyssa Arizabal/Rappler

House de facto first lady Yedda Romualdez handles the chamber's internal budget worth billions of pesos and heads foundations that allow her to establish deep relationships with female lawmakers

MANILA, Philippines – Speaker Martin Romualdez’s most indispensable asset in the House of Representatives is a partnership that goes beyond political party ties: a marriage vow. 

Yedda Romualdez, also a sitting congresswoman, is an ally who, for better or for worse, will never turn on her husband, the Speaker. 

While political dynasties thrive in Congress, a power couple in the Batasang Pambansa is uncommon, especially one that involves the chamber’s top leader. The only other time this happened in the history of the House of Representatives after the 1986 EDSA uprising was from 2019 to 2020, when Alan Peter Cayetano presided over the chamber while his wife Lani represented the other district of Taguig City.

But unlike Lani, Yedda yields a more significant amount of power, running a crucial committee that allows her to manage the chamber’s internal budget worth billions of pesos. 

IN-CHARGE. Representative Yedda Romualdez assumed the role of acting speaker when the House marked Women’s Month in March 2022 with an all-women session. Photo courtesy of House press and public affairs bureau.
Who is Yedda?

A third-term lawmaker who entered Congress seven years ago in a rather walk-in-the-park fashion, Yedda succeeded her term-limited husband to represent the first congressional district of Leyte, bailiwick of the Romualdez family. She secured 73% of the vote in 2016, crushing two opponents who virtually had no political machinery to match that of Lakas-CMD.

When her husband Martin returned to the House in 2019, she gave way and returned the district post to him, but she remained in the chamber as the representative of rising party-list group Tingog, which won one legislative seat

In 2022, Tingog’s popularity skyrocketed, more than doubling the votes it obtained from the previous elections, and finishing third in a very crowded party-list race. 

But while getting the congresswoman tag was cakewalk, Yedda was a rather reluctant politician, according to her former chief of staff, now-fellow Tingog Representative Jude Acidre.

“She had a private life, although she is married to a politician. Yes, she would participate in outreach programs, but not on the political side,” he told Rappler in mid-June.

Love story

Yedda is the granddaughter of late Visayan lawyer and labor leader Democrito Mendoza, whose son TUCP Representative Raymond Mendoza is among the Speaker’s nine deputy speakers in the current Congress. 

A fashion model in 1995, Yedda captured the interest of businessman Martin, who first saw her photo at a shopping mall in Cebu. He subsequently showed up at the residence of Yedda’s grandfather Democrito and began courting her.

Yedda, a registered nurse, won the Binibining Pilipinas International title in 1996 and finished in the top 15 of the international beauty pageant.

“When she went to Tokyo to compete at the Miss International pageant, she had a problem with her luggage. It was overloaded. So I ended up going to Tokyo as her assistant, and also to give her support,” Martin recalled in a 2016 entertainment news report

The two wed in 1999, and have since raised four children. 

THROWBACK. Speaker Martin Romualdez shared on Facebook in 2015 an old photo of him and his wife Yedda.

As someone who married a hotshot politician, Yedda found it impossible to completely avoid the spotlight. Even when she was not a public official, either her face or name was plastered alongside Martin’s in tarpaulins across their province – whether the goal was to greet Tacloban City a happy fiesta, or just welcome the Pope.

But she also did not necessarily chase the limelight, focusing instead on charity work and mobilizing on-ground allies on behalf of her husband while he was miles away to fulfill his duties inside the halls of the Batasang Pambansa.

CHARITY WORK. Yedda Romualdez visited Super Typhoon Yolanda survivors who left Leyte for Manila in December 2013. Photo courtesy of Martin Romualdez’s FB page.

When it was her turn to represent the Romualdez name in Congress, she kept mostly a low profile, and was not after the headlines. But she gradually immersed herself in the culture of the legislative branch, beefing up her congressional résumé as head of important committees.

Power of the purse

Yedda now chairs the accounts committee, but this is not her first rodeo. She was elected to the same position in 2018, when former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) took over as speaker.

GMA and Martin had a mentor-mentee relationship, and when he passed the baton to his wife, Arroyo also nurtured a close relationship with Yedda, who was frequently seen visiting Arroyo’s office back then.

“GMA was training her because she saw her potential,” a source allied with Arroyo told Rappler.

MENTOR. In this 2018 photo, Representative Yedda Romualdez sits beside then-speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo during a House transportation committee oversight meeting held in Hilongos, Leyte. Photo courtesy of Arroyo’s office.

Insiders say the committee on accounts is one of the most important in the chamber, as any panel that handles money has special, if not hidden, powers. The House website describes the committee as the one in charge of internal budget preparation, submission, and approval, as well as accounting and financial operations.

For example, if a lawmaker is traveling abroad for work purposes and needs additional funding, he or she needs to file a budget request that would ultimately need the clearance of the accounts committee.

The accounts chairperson, in a sense, is the one who keeps the household that is the Batasang Pambansa in order, ensuring the smooth operations of a chamber that was given a budget of P28 billion just for 2023.

“The accounts committee has many responsibilities because you handle everything, in terms of accountability and payables, especially with employees,” San Jose Del Monte City Representative Rida Robes, who serves as vice chairperson of the panel, told Rappler. “Congresswoman Yedda is hardworking in that regard.”

“Congresswoman Yedda scrutinizes every little detail, and she’s doing it perfectly. She doesn’t want to overlook anything and cause people to raise questions. She’s very meticulous,” OFW Representative Marissa “Del Mar” Magsino, another member of the accounts panel, told Rappler in a separate conversation.

Controversial positions

When Yedda drew criticism, often, it was not because she was an instigator but perhaps an enabler, who chose to just ride the wave, especially at moments in history when dissent was scarce.

In 2017, she was absent without notice on the day that the Pantaleon Alvarez-led House passed the death penalty bill. That same year, she did not join 32 lawmakers in opposing a proposal to grant the Commission on Human Rights a P1,000 budget.

In 2020, netizens remembered her as being among the 70 lawmakers who voted to deny ABS-CBN a new franchise, ultimately paralyzing the media giant. It was an act that was largely criticized as an attack on press freedom, and described as inhumane as it led to the retrenchment of thousands of employees at the height of the pandemic.

The same year, she also voted in favor of the anti-terror bill, a highly contentious measure that allows the anti-terror council to designate persons or entities as terrorists based only on its own secret determination. Most of the law’s provisions were upheld by the Supreme Court, despite criticisms that they were draconian.

In 2022, she was among the six original authors of a proposed sovereign investment fund called Maharlika, arguably the most controversial piece of legislation yet under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s administration. Critics have flagged the measure due to corruption and investment risks as well as its railroading in Congress, but its proponents insist adequate safeguards have been put in place.

“Most of the decisions, she did by herself, but not after she has talked to everyone. I would like to see it as an informed decision. She talks even to other side. When she voted [against] ABS-CBN, she also tried to reach out to friends who were working with ABS-CBN to understand everything,” Acidre said.

Advocate for women and children’s rights

But Yedda shines when it involves advocacies close to her heart.

“When she became chairperson of the committee on the welfare of children [in the 18th Congress], she became really passionate about legislation,” Acidre said. “She’s always been passionate about issues that are reflective of mothers.”

In her seven years in Congress, she boasts a rather impressive track record of having been a key author of laws that improve women and children’s rights, including:

Even Makabayan, the perennial opposition bloc in the House of Representatives, has a positive impression of the Speaker’s wife.

“There was a time we asked for a video statement in connection with our anti-rape and anti-sexual harassment campaigns, and she was very responsive. She’s very consistent with regards to women and children’s issues, and that’s what I will remember the most about her,” Gabriela Representative Arlene Brosas told Rappler.

Rallying women legislators
SWORN IN. Officers of the Association of Women Legislators Foundation Incorporated took their oath before President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Malacañang in November 2022. Photo courtesy of Representative Marissa Magsino.

Yedda is also the chairperson of both the Congressional Spouses Foundation and the Association of Women Legislators Foundation Incorporated, two House-recognized organizations that mount socio-civic projects and charity events.

Both women-led organizations give Yedda an avenue to establish and solidify relationships with female colleagues.

“In terms of critique of the Marcos administration, she’s of course on the other side, and that’s politics. But on a personal level, she’s really very kind,” the opposition’s Brosas said. “Every time she sees us in the plenary, she always tells us, ‘Let me know what you need.’ She’s very collegial.”

“I have encountered different kinds of people, characters, and personalities, but I would like to say [she’s different]. I haven’t seen her lose her temper, she’s calm all the time. She is always at peace with herself, like she knows exactly what she’s doing,” added Magsino, who likened Yedda’s beauty and presence to the Virgin Mary.

Sources close to the leadership regard Yedda as an asset who, in her own way, helps sustain the kumbaya in the House, amid rumors of an ouster plot that rocked the chamber just before Martin concluded his first year as speaker.

“When we have immediate concerns, we go to Congresswoman Yedda. There is already a solution after we talk to her,” Robes said. “We have our faith in her because it’s not difficult to reach her.”

It is almost impossible to accommodate the hundreds of lawmakers who want a private meeting with the Speaker, and his allies are aware that ungranted requests can cultivate feelings of resentment.

Yedda assists in this matter: she acts as an extension of her husband’s ear, a substitute for matters that his busy schedule prevents him from attending to. This was a role she played during the early days of Martin’s political career, during those times when Yedda would meet with their constituents in Leyte whenever Martin was in Manila.

The difference now is: Martin’s immediate constituents have become the hundreds of legislators with their own kinds of power, and Yedda herself has an elective post that allows her to craft a political career of her own. The stage is bigger, and the stakes are higher.

AFFECTION. Tingog Representative Jude Acidre says the Romualdez couple maintains a professional relationship in the House, with Yedda calling her husband ‘Sir.’ In this photo, OFW Representative Marissa Magsino asks the two to hug each other, in one of their more candid moments in public. Photo courtesy of Magsino.


* All quotes in Filipino were translated into English, and some were shortened for brevity.

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Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Malacañang, and the Commission on Elections for Rappler.