3 House speaker bets agree to respect Duterte’s choice

Mara Cepeda

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3 House speaker bets agree to respect Duterte’s choice
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo says the speakership hopefuls will 'settle the issue between them' should President Rodrigo Duterte still refuse to give his blessing

MANILA, Philippines – Three of the leading contenders for the House speakership agreed to seek President Rodrigo Duterte’s help to settle the matter, saying they would respect the latter’s choice if he gives his blessing.

Leyte 1st District Representative Martin Romualdez, Taguig City-Pateros Representative Alan Peter Cayetano, and Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Velasco were set to meet with Duterte on Monday afternoon, July 8.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo told reporters on Monday that the 3 lawmakers would seek Duterte’s help, right after a phone call with Romualdez.

Panelo received a call from Romualdez while he was in the middle of granting an interview to reporters at Malacañang.

“They decided that if the President will not help them, then they will meet before the SONA (State of the Nation Address) and settle the issue between them,” said Panelo.

The agreement was decided upon by Romualdez, Cayetano, and Velasco after they met with two of Duterte’s children – Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte and Davao City 1st District Representative Paolo Duterte – on Saturday, July 6.

“They all agreed that they will abide [by] the President’s decision,” said Surigao del Sur 2nd District Representative Johnny Pimentel of the meeting with the Duterte siblings. Pimentel is backing the speakership bid of Velasco, with whom Pimentel flew to Davao City on Saturday.

Anak Kalusugan Representative Mike Defensor, a supporter of Romualdez, also said the 3 speakership candidates agreed that a term-sharing deal would be “detrimental” to Duterte’s legislative agenda.

“I understand that they agreed to await and respect [the President’s] decision and no term-sharing should happen because it would be detrimental to the legislative agenda,” said Defensor in a text message.

The President earlier refused to name his preferred candidate for speaker, saying he would let lawmakers decide for themselves.

Duterte later admitted that he had approved the possible term-sharing of his allies Cayetano and Velasco, who supposedly later backed out of this deal.

The influential Duterte siblings, however, are backing another speakership bet: Davao City 3rd District Representative Isidro Ungab, the candidate of the Hugpong ng Pagbabago party chaired by Sara Duterte.

Paolo Duterte himself announced his interest in becoming speaker, but later abandoned his bid to back Ungab instead.

Support for Ungab growing

Ungab now has the backing of the Duterte Coalition, composed mostly of Davao legislators who have been calling and meeting with small groups of House members since the weekend to secure the numbers needed by Ungab to beat his opponents. 

Davao City 2nd District Representative Mylene Garcia Albano said there is increasing support for Ungab, though she refused to say around how many legislators have committed to vote for him on July 22, when the House chooses its next leader.

“Nothing we can say now. Ang gusto lang namin sabihin na marami na rin ang nag-express ng support nila (What I can say is that there are a lot of people who have expressed their support for him). Hopefully we can firm that up in the coming days,” Albano told reporters on Monday in a phone interview.

Albano said her bloc hopes to settle the speakership issue ahead of Duterte’s SONA, which will fall on the afternoon of July 22, to ensure that the President’s speech will not be delayed by any power play like what happened in his 2018 SONA.

In July 2018, Duterte’s SONA was delayed for more than an hour after legislators staged a coup to unseat Davao del Norte 1st District Representative Pantaleon Alvarez as speaker and replace him with then-Pampanga 2nd District Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Alvarez is now seeking his comeback as leader of the House under the 18th Congress, joining Romualdez, Cayetano, and Velasco in the race.

“What we’re hoping for is maayos na usapan. More than that, sa totoo lang, we’re hoping that with a firm coalition, with the leaders firmly on board, hindi na po mangyayari ‘yung gano’n (coup),” said Albano. 

(What we’re hoping for is a clear agreement. More than that, honestly, we’re hoping that with a firm coalition, with the leaders firmly on board, no coup would happen again.) – 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.