House intrams yield 2 speakers: Velasco ‘elected’ lord of the House

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    Taking oath. Rep. Lord Allan Velasco (in green) takes his oath as speaker at the Celebrity Sports Plaza in Barangay Old Balara, Quezon City. PHOTO BY ROLLY SALVADOR

    MARINDUQUE Rep. Lord Allan Velasco was “elected” yesterday by 186 lawmakers as the new Speaker of the House of Representatives, giving the coup de grâce to Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano’s 15-month hold of the chamber’s top post.

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    Velasco and his allies convened their own “session” at the Celebrity Sports Plaza in Quezon City where more than a hundred of the congressman’s public supporters gathered outside, braving the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

    The session, which was presided by ABONO party-list Rep. Conrado Estrella III, was convened in the morning despite warnings from the House leadership that doing so would be illegal since the rules of the House of Representatives is clear that a speaker can only be elected by a majority vote in a plenary session.

    In his acceptance speech, Velasco immediately took a swipe at Cayetano, saying his acceptance of the challenge to lead the House “is a testament to our indomitable spirit and our collective commitment to honoring our word.”

    “For what are we, who are we, if we cannot live up to our word? This is not the triumph of one, this is the triumph of everyone who believes that ‘a promise is a promise!’” Velasco said.

    He thanked the various parties whose members voted for him, presidential son deputy speaker Paolo Duterte, Sen. Christopher Go and Velasco’s close friend, presidential daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte for her “trust and moral support.”

    A day before his allies elected Velasco, Mayor Duterte was reported to have called House members to consolidate support for him after Cayetano’s resignation offer was rejected by 184 lawmakers on the floor last September 30.

    The presidential daughter had also played a crucial role in the 2018 election of then Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo as speaker of the 17th Congress in place of then speaker Pantaleon Alvarez who was ousted after a rift with Mayor Duterte.

    Velasco then thanked the President, calling him a “man of his word” and someone who is “inspiring young government servants like me to believe that being a ‘probinsyano’ (country boy) is not a hindrance to serve.”

    “That a young probinsyano congressman from a small province like Marinduque can be elected Speaker of the House of Representatives… this can only happen in the age of Duterte when anything is possible for the benefit of the Filipino people,” he said.

    While a maze of the House of Representatives was placed in front of the rostrum, Cagayan De Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said it really did not matter if there was one because it “is merely a symbol (of the House’s) authority.”

    “It can’t take precedence or have a higher legal authority over the physical warm bodies and those attending through online platforms,” Rodriguez said, adding that the Cayetano leadership violated the Constitution and the legislative calendar by suspending the session a week ahead of the scheduled recess on October 16.

    The abrupt suspension, which Velasco’s allies said was meant to deprive them of the opportunity to elect him on the floor, was what prompted President Duterte to call for a special session to allow the House to approve the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021.

    Velasco said he would like to extend his hand of reconciliation to Cayetano “and hope that he would be amenable to sit down with me as we comply with the agreement for a peaceful transition for the benefit of our members and the country.”

    In a separate interview with reporters, Velasco said he is open to giving Cayetano a deputy speakership position if he will accept it: “It depends on what position he would want but definitely maybe one of my deputy speakers.”

    He could not say yet if there will be many changes in the leadership once he assumes power but said majority leader Martin Romualdez is likely to stay because “I think he has the full support of the House for the majority leadership.”

    It was Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza who moved to declare the speaker’s post vacant and seconded by 1-PACMAN party-list Rep. Michael Romero, who was recently removed as deputy speaker for being a Velasco supporter.

    Among those who nominated Velasco are Reps. Salvador Leachon of Oriental Mindoro who is his party mate in the ruling PDP-Laban, Michael John Duavit of Rizal, Kristine Singson-Meehan of Ilocos Sur, Francisco Benitez of Negros Oriental and Joey Salceda of Albay, the chair of the House committee on ways and means who is formerly a Cayetano supporter.

    “Well, to be honest, I just follow party instructions,” said Salceda, who told reporters that out of the 186 who voted, 111 lawmakers were physically present in the session, 45 participated via the Zoom app and the rest through the Viber app.

    In his nomination speech, Leachon said the speakership issue was “blown out of proportion” because Cayetano did not honor a simple term-sharing agreement with Velasco which was brokered by the President last year.

    “It became messy because someone did not honor his word and even (2021) budget was caught in the middle of the fight,” he said. “We need a leader that inspires and not discourage, a leader who will unite not divide, a leader with a heart of a public servant and not a tyrant’s, a leader who listens, who empowers its (Congress’) members, a leader who prioritizes serving the people rather than serving own interests.”

    Velasco’s supporters also appointed retired police Major Gen. Mao Aplasca as sergeant-at-arms and lawyer Jocella Sipin as Secretary General.

    Davao City Rep. Paolo Duterte resigned as deputy speaker last night, just several hours after Velasco’s supporters held their own session and supposedly elected him as speaker, according to a source from the majority bloc.

    “This is to inform all of you that I will be submitting my resignation to both Speakers as deputy speaker for political affairs, this afternoon,” the presidential son posted on the majority bloc’s Viber group before leaving it.

    The presidential son earlier said he would remain neutral since both Cayetano and Velasco are his close friends.

    The Radio Television and Malacanang (RTVM) live coverage yesterday of Velasco’s election as House speaker that aired on government social media platforms was primarily intended for the resumption of the congressional sessions and budget deliberations, the Presidential Communications operations Office (PCOO) clarified.

    PCOO assistant secretary Kris Ablan said the PCOO had been covering and airing the budget deliberations in its social media platforms since the House of Representatives had requested their coverage in August.

    Ablan said that since then, a technical team had been deployed to the House for the daily events, including yesterday.

    The special session at the House, which was called by President Duterte, is set to convene only today, Tuesday. There was no scheduled congressional session or budget deliberation at the Batasan Pambansa on Monday.

    RTVM Executive Director Demic Pabalan said that their technical team, upon arriving at the House, was advised to proceed to the Celebrity Sports Club in Quezon City for the scheduled House event which they heeded.

    Pabalan said they are investigating who issued the order for the RTVM team to cover and air the event at the Celebrity Sports Club.

    Ablan said RTVM was merely doing its duty when it provided live coverage for the “session” at the Celebrity Sports Club.

    “Regardless of the present political climate within the HOR, the RTVM has heeded to the request for such needed coverage. The RTVM coverage posted this morning on our social media accounts does not reflect the PCOO’s position on the present political situation in the HOR or any partisanship on the matter. The PCOO and RTVM simply complied to the request for the coverage, with the promotion of factual information and transparency, especially on tax expenditures that concern all the Filipino taxpayers in mind,” he said.

    Dozens of PNP Special Action Force personnel were deployed at the vicinity of the Batasan complex yesterday amid the House speakership row in anticipation of a possible mobilization of the two fighting camps’ supporters, according to SAF director Brig. Gen. Bernabe Balba.

    The SAF men were deployed at around 9 a.m. aboard trucks to ensure peace and order, Balba said, adding that the elite personnel were sent to the area due to the possible holding of rallies by the supporters of Velasco and Cayetano.

    “We always deploy whenever there is an activity… It’s just to augment the troops for maintenance of order,” said Balba.

    He said the policemen were pulled out at around 1 p.m. because “it was raining, maybe the rallyists would no longer come.”

    Balba said the SAF men came in several trucks because they have to observe social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. – With Jocelyn Montemayor and Victor Reyes