BY JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR and WENDELL VIGILIA
PRESIDENT Duterte on Thursday night told members of the House of Representatives to immediately solve their ongoing leadership problem or he will step in and solve the issue for them.
The President did not name names but the ongoing Speakership war at the House involves Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Marinduque Rep. Lord Alan Velasco.
The President, in a pre-recorded message, likewise told House members to leave him out of their internal problem even as he stressed the need to end the Speakership bickering which he said was already affecting important legislative measures, specifically the proposed P4.5 trillion national budget for 2021.
“Huwag naman sana ninyong sobrahan ang laro sa Congress na iyong budget mismo ang nalagay sa alanganin. I’m just, you know, appealing to you… either you resolve the issue, the impasse ninyo diyan and pass the budget legally and constitutionally… Kapag hindi ninyo ginawa ako ang gagawa para sa inyo (Do not go overboard in your games in Congress, so much that even the budget is placed in jeopardy. I’m just, you know, appealing to you… either you resolve the issue of your impasse and pass the budget legally and constitutionally… if you do not do it, I will do it for you),” he said.
Duterte did not elaborate what he intended to do but said that he is neither threatening the lawmakers nor does he have any “ambition.” He did not elaborate.
He also said that he will not give a timeline as “only dictators” do that, but he told the public to wait and see what will happen in the next few days.
The President, who initially brokered a term sharing agreement between Cayetano and Velasco last year, also said that he will not apologize for making his threats as he reminded the lawmakers that they are public servants and it is their duty to serve their bosses which is the public.
“There is something more, higher than just delaying or maneuvering in Congress because everybody wants to be speaker,” he added.
Earlier on Thursday, allies of Velasco yesterday claimed they have more than enough votes — 161 to be exact — to topple Cayetano right now.
Mindoro Oriental Rep. Salvador Leachon of the ruling PDP-Laban did not name names but said he personally knows who among his colleagues have signified support for Velasco because he is one of those listing their names and consolidating support.
“(I) was able to talk to almost all of the members together with the party leaders, as of now we have more or less about 161,” Leachon told ANC.
Velasco’s camp is planning to force the leadership of the House of Representatives to resume the plenary session on October 14 and force a vote but the leadership said it would be impossible because the House is no longer in session.
The Speaker’s allies have said that since the speakership fight has always been a numbers game, Velasco has yet to prove his claim that he has the support of the majority unlike Cayetano whose resignation offer last week was rejected by 184 lawmakers, which they said proved that he has the support of the majority.
Leachon said the Speaker and his supporters abruptly cut the session short earlier this week and suspended it until November 16 because they knew they were losing numbers and that an election is in the offing.
“They called off the session precisely because they know for a fact that the election is forthcoming,” he added. “As a consequence, the budget is actually sidelined, contrary to the directive of the President to fast track it and of course to the detriment of the Filipino people,” he also said.
Leachon said Cayetano’s camp will use the Halloween break to buy some time because “there will be mechanisms that they can do to entice members to be on their side.”
Meanwhile, deputy speaker Paolo Duterte decided to remain neutral on the issue, saying he will not take sides because he considers both Cayetano and Velasco as his friends.
“I am all for a unified House, and given the value I place in every member of Congress, I refuse to make any statement that will favor or damage either of my two good friends who are both asserting their right to be our Speaker,” he said in a statement.
For a year and a half, the President’s son said he has formed many friendships in the 18th Congress and two of those that he treasures the most are those with the Speaker and Velasco, who is also close to his sister Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.
“Due to this issue on the term-sharing agreement, Congress is currently mired in what seems to be a battle between two people I’m close with. I am saddened that it has come to this —a House divided. And if we remain a House divided, we will fail in our mandate to serve the people as their representatives,” the younger Duterte said.
Duterte said that while it is undeniable that such a term-sharing agreement was made before and that Velasco has the “right to assert his claim to the Speakership,” it is also clear that a “considerable number of our colleagues still support Speaker Cayetano.”
If and when the day comes that the members are called to select the leader of the House, the deputy speaker said he expects his colleagues to “vote for someone who is committed, who understands what we want to achieve for our constituents, and who can fight for and with us, and unify the 300 members of this House of Representatives despite our many differences.”
“And when we do make that decision, I hope we can find it in our hearts to vote for someone, not just for convenience or affiliation, but whom we feel strongly can represent the House with the dignity that it deserves. And whatever may be the result of this, I humbly ask my colleagues to remain respectful to one another, and support whoever is the Speaker. At the end of this episode, I hope we can go beyond politics and remember that more than power, it is the relationships we’ve formed in these halls of Congress and our duties to the people, that matter most,” he said.