[OPINION] The first blow will come from within

After weeks of wrangling, it seemed for a moment that the House of Representatives would finally be back on track attending to the needs of the country. With the nation’s budget hearings affected, Speaker Alan Cayetano and his rival Cong. Lord Velasco went to Malacanang Palace on Tuesday night to settle their dispute in front of the President. By Wednesday morning, news leaked that the two had agreed to set aside their differences. The “term-sharing” agreement which both signed off on in 2019 would be followed. The President must have heaved a sigh of relief as he went to sleep. It was his administration’s budget and priorities that were being sidetracked after all. 

By Wednesday afternoon however, the gains of the meeting were gone. As their colleagues in the Senate focused on hearing priority bills, our esteemed Congressmen saw fit to conduct a melodramatic show – perhaps to fill the void of telenovelas created by their closure of ABS-CBN. In a “resignation” speech, the current Speaker alternated between soliciting pity, feigning rage, and mocking his rival – with a not so subtle threat to the 2021 budget added for good measure. His subalterns then took turns objecting to his “resignation.” By Wednesday night, a majority had voted to reject his resignation. One wonders what thoughts (or words) raced through the minds of the President’s men who were monitoring this turn of events. 

For sure the Palace would try to recover by spinning this as proof that Congress is independent. Still, one would be more inclined to celebrate this demonstration of “congressional independence” if it were not so contrived or out of place. We are suffering through a once-in-a-century pandemic. Lives are being lost. Unemployment is reaching record levels. Businesses are closing. And these Congressmen chose to waste time on a political “zarzuela.” The only time COVID entered the conversation was when a congressman used it as a pretext to retain the current speaker. We have seen power struggles before but, it takes a ruthless kind of naked ambition to do it in the middle of a pandemic as the nation suffers.

The fact is, the nation couldn’t care less who the Speaker is. A change of leadership need not hold the COVID Relief package hostage. We wouldn’t even be in this situation if the current Speaker just complied with the agreement he used to get his post, the same one he affirmed less than 24 hours before (in front of the President). 

Regardless of how this saga ends, this maneuver is a warning to the President and his men. The nation just witnessed a group of politicians embarrass the President by spurning their promise to him less than 24 hours after making it. It is an unmistakable turn in the political dynamics of the country as the administration enters its last leg.  

It also informs the President and his men that they should stop fixating on the fractured opposition. For there is no danger there. The true threat lies much closer to the throne. And if this administration were to falter, the first blow will come from there. This remains, even if the current Speaker’s ploy to cling to power fails. It is not the success of the plot that matters but the audacity that fueled it in the first place. And on that point, it would be good to remember that the main personalities involved in the afternoon zarzuela have all come after a sitting president before. Beware those whose god is ambition, for they honor no one.

When Virgil Sollozo met Tom Hagen after his assassins shot Don Corleone (Godfather Part 1), Sollozo justified his move with this quote, With all due respect Tom, the Don was slipping. Ten years ago, could I have gotten to him? The administration would be better served if its officials paid close attention to the message these politicians just conveyed: it is no longer 2016.    

Finally, there is another trite lesson here for those interested in Constitutional revision. If we were ever to seriously consider shifting to a Unicameral system (i.e. a legislature with only one chamber), we would be far better off keeping the Senate and abolishing the House. – Rappler.com

John Molo is a commercial law litigator who enjoys reading and learning about the Constitution and its intersection with politics. He teaches Constitutional Law at UP Law-BGC, where he also chairs the Political Law Cluster of the Faculty. He is the President of the Harvard Law School Association of the Philippines, and a past Chairman of the IBP Law Journal. He led the team that sued the Aquino administration and invalidated the PDAF.