SPEAKER Lord Alan Velasco is now working on repairing his relationship with political parties that backed former speaker Alan Peter Cayetano while starting to weed out Cayetano’s closest allies occupying plum posts at the House of Representatives.
To restore the supermajority coalition and ensure the stability of his leadership, Velasco yesterday met with members of the Nacionalista Party (NP), Cayetano’s own party, to accept their support for his leadership which was signified through a manifesto signed by its more than 40 members.
While this was happening, the new House leadership removed as deputy speaker Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte and replaced him with 1-PACMAN party-list Rep. Michael Romero, who was earlier booted out of the post by the former leadership for being a Velasco supporter.
In a statement, Villafuerte said that if the intention behind removing him was to “intimidate all those who remain loyal to former Speaker Cayetano, then they have miscalculated badly.”
“Their vindictiveness merely shows that we were right all along, and exposes the kind of ‘leadership’ we can expect,” he said. “The House needs to be united, and I am all for that but it has to come from the top. Words need to be backed up by action. We cannot talk of palabra de honor (word of honor) only when it suits our personal ambitions – we must live it, breath it, and embody it in all we do. That is what it takes to be the true Speaker.”
Oriental Mindoro Rep. Doy Leachon was also elected senior deputy speaker, taking the place of presidential Davao City Rep. Paolo Duterte who earlier resigned as deputy speaker for political affairs.
The younger Duterte was elected chair of the powerful House committee on accounts on Tuesday night, unseating Cavite Rep. Abraham Tolentino, another close Cayetano ally.
Later in the session, Quezon Rep. Angelina Helen Tan also regained her post as chairwoman of the committee on health.
Cayetano, in a Facebook Live video, said that in the same way that Velasco has been prodding him to honor their term-sharing agreement, the new Speaker should also stick to his word that no major realignments will be made under his leadership.
The former speaker earlier said Velasco wanted Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab to replace ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Yap as chair of the committee on appropriations which reviews the annual proposed national budget.
Cayetano particularly reminded Velasco of his promise to President Duterte that committee chairmen will not be replaced to avoid disruption in passing the 2021 national budget and ensure continuity.
“You invoked word of honor so do the same from your side because the President was very clear that no one will be replaced as chairmen or as congressional leader. So you invoked word of honor and I’m doing the same. You told the President, ‘While it’s painful, Mayor, I will comply,’” Cayetano said.
The Taguig-Pateros lawmaker said some Velasco supporters want to “take revenge, telling some of my people that they should exchange positions, leave their posts and their offices are even being taken from them.”
“Let’s not do that, let’s all focus (on passing the 2021) budget,” said Cayetano. “Please support the new leadership, please get the budget passed so I’ll stop there and let them run Congress. We should trust our leaders there.”
After meeting with the NP members, Velasco met with National Unity Party (NUP) of businessman Enrique Razon, the second largest party at the House which has also vowed to support the new House leadership.
The NUP, which has at least 49 members, was the first party to have nominated Cayetano for the speakership in July last year.
Velasco won the majority vote after getting the support of Lakas-CMD, the Liberal Party, the Party-list Coalition and his own party, the Nationalist People’s Coaltion (NPC) and the ruling PDP-Laban which has more than 60 members.
Leachon ruled out the possibility of a coup against the leadership, saying that while only 186 lawmakers were recorded to have voted for Velasco, around 250 out of the 299 members of the House are now supporting him.
Valenzuela City Rep. Eric Martinez said he does not believe that there will be a huge re-organization for as long as Cayetano supporters would work well with the new leadership.
He said Cayetano allies should not be confrontational and should perform their jobs well because failing to do so “would compromise the legislative agenda of the House and the President.”
“Let’s take the scenario na you are there, you occupy the second-highest position in the House as deputy speaker, but then just keep on barking and show non-cooperation and put in a brave front as if this is still the speakership battle a day ago. Hindi naman pwedeng ganun (It can’t be like that),” Martinez told reporters.
For his part, Romero said it should be made clear that Cayetano was ousted and not resigned because he was replaced by Velasco even before he tendered his “irrevocable resignation.”
“I would like to refute this statement. 186 lawmakers elected Lord Allan Velasco as Speaker. He was ousted as Speaker of the House,” Romero told ANC. “He did not resign. For what purpose? He was already ousted a day before. These are facts.”
Cayetano said that while he believed that he still had the majority support, he decided not to question the way that Velasco was elected to avoid making the situation worse which could further damage the institution.
“Ayaw ko pong magkagulo (I don’t chaos). Ang bayan po natin ang kawawa (Our nation will be the one to suffer) so giving up a position but helping everyone else for me is more important than keeping the position,” he said.