Is the speakership battle a proxy war of tycoons?

Mara Cepeda
Is the speakership battle a proxy war of tycoons?
A left-leaning congressman thinks so, with millions in cash allegedly being used to buy votes among lawmakers to secure the speakership

If former House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez is to be believed, big money is dictating the speakership race in the House of Representatives for the 18th Congress.

The returning Davao del Norte 1st district representative alleged that certain candidates are bribing every lawmaker with P500,000 up to P1 million to secure votes.

But where is the cash coming from? Likely from the country’s top businessmen, according to Alliance of Concerned Teachers Representative Antonio Tinio. 

The Makabayan bloc congressman replied in the affirmative when asked by a reporter on Wednesday, May 29, if the speakership race could be considered a proxy war of tycoons.

“Definitely. In the first place, ‘yung mga major political parties, may backing and may funding ng mga tycoons. Siguro kung magsusuri lang kayo nang kaunti – halimbawa, NPC, kanino ‘yan? NP, kanino ‘yan? NUP? NPC, Ramon Ang. NUP, Razon. NP, Villar, and so on. Of course, Martin Romualdez, Romualdez and Marcos [clans are related],” said Tinio in a press conference. 

(Definitely. In the first place, the major political parties have the backing and funding of tycoons. If you look closely, who is behind NPC? Behind NP? NUP? NPC is Ramon Ang’s. NUP is Razon’s. NP is Villar’s, and so on.) 

The NPC or the Nationalist People’s Coalition is chaired by business tycoon and former ambassador Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr, who is also the CEO of San Miguel Corporation. Ang, whom Tinio named, is the company president and vice chairman of San Miguel.

Tinio also referred to Enrique Razon, the 3rd richest man in the Philippines who has long been linked to NUP or the National Unity Party. Razon heads the International Container Terminal Services, which manages around 30 ports all over the globe.

Then there is former Senate president Manuel Villar, the president of NP or the Nacionalista Party. Forbes named him the Philippines’ richest man in 2019. His wife Cynthia Villar has just been reelected as senator. 

Tinio also mentioned Romualdez, the incoming Leyte 1st district representative who is vying for the speakership. Romualdez is the president of the Lakas–Christian Muslim Democrats. He belongs to the dynasty that counts as member outgoing Ilocos Norte 2nd District Representative Imelda Marcos, the wife of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Why would businessmen dabble in the speakership race? 

“Because these big businesses, their interests are in the energy sector, power, electricity, telecommunications, airports, highways, etcetera, which either directly depend on legislative franchises to operate or need funding from the national budget through public-private partnerships or other such interventions from Congress,” explained Tinio.

Returning Negros Oriental 3rd District Representative Arnolfo Teves Jr, a minority bloc member, disagreed with Tinio. He said not a single party is capable of winning the speakership on its own.

“May I ask you: is there any party that is capable of winning the speakership, just one party? How can it be a battle of tycoons when there’s no single party that has the number capable of winning the speakership on its own? No party has a membership beyond 150, right? Then that answers the question,” said Teves in a separate press conference.

It has long been a practice in the House for lawmakers to decide on issues based on the decision of their party.  

Political parties also tend to forge alliances to boost their numbers whenever a certain bill, resolution – or in this case, the top post in the House – is up for a vote. – 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.