MARINDUQUE Rep. Lord Allan Velasco on Tuesday night broke his silence over the rehashed row over the speakership and addressed allies of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano who questioned his capability to take the helm and lead the House of Representatives.
“I have been silent during the duration of the gentleman’s agreement in deference and respect to the sitting speaker. My silence does not mean I am disinterested nor I have turned my back on the covenant,” Velasco said in a written statement.
He was referring to their term-sharing agreement, under which Cayetano will sit for 15 months and Velasco will be the speaker for the next 21 months which is supposed to begin next month.
Velasco did not deny the observations that he has been “mum on issues” but said it only means that he does not want to call attention to himself given that Cayetano is still the leader of the House.
“Being party to the term-sharing agreement, one does not and should not seek to compete with the current Speaker as a gentleman’s agreement is in force. We will have our turn at the right time,” he said, reacting to criticisms that his colleagues do not see him as a leader.
“Since I became a lawmaker I have worked quietly, away from publicity, to support this administration and help accomplish the legislative agenda of President Duterte to improve the lives of the Filipino people. When both parties finally honor the agreement, I will show my colleagues the kind of leadership I espouse,” Velasco said.
While the term-sharing agreement still stands, Velasco cannot automatically assume the House’s top post because he will need the vote of the majority to be elected speaker.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque has said that the President on Monday night told him that while he is hoping that the term-sharing agreement would push through, “if Congressman Lord Allan (Velasco) does not have the numbers, he cannot do anything.”
Velasco’s ally, Buhay party-list Lito Atienza, called for the President’s intervention: “Mr. President, please do not allow the breaking of this gentleman’s agreement to share terms. Otherwise, Congress is doomed to fail if palabra de honor (word of honor) and delicadeza are not followed.”
TIME TO GIVE UP
Deputy speaker Rodante Marcoleta of SAGIP party-list advised Velasco to just give up the fight, saying his eventual declaration that he has not turned his back on his agreement with Cayetano “came very late in the day.”
“I know that in another time, the star of my friend will still shine the brightest. After all, he has the youth and vitality on his side,” said Marcoleta.
Marcoleta said it will be unwise to change leaders in the face of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, stressing that Velasco’s gentleman’s agreement with Cayetano “is not the test of leadership in the House of Representatives, it is the way how we gallantly resolve the problems brought about.”
“May kasabihan po tayo na mahirap magpalit ng kapitan sa gitna ng umaalimpuyong bagyo (We have a saying that it’s difficult to change the captain of the ship in the face of a raging storm),” he said.
Marcoleta took a swipe at Velasco’s passive style, saying “leadership is not about competing or waiting our turn at the right time.”
While Velasco has been waiting on the sidelines, Marcoleta said the last six months “dictated the most critical path of our national life” as Congress enacted crucial pieces of legislation to fight the pandemic.
“The arena is where all the gladiators are, fighting for the people’s cause, not in the gallery comfortably watching the turn of events. No guts, no glory, so they say,” he said.
The majority held a caucus yesterday via Zoom app where the Speaker vowed to address the grievances of some lawmakers who were questioning the alleged inequitable distribution of public works projects among congressional districts under the P4.5 trillion proposed national budget for 2021.
The Speaker said that even if the issue is being used by Velasco’s camp to oust him, the leadership will not blackmail or hold hostage the budget of some lawmakers in the face of the speakership fight. In the same way, he said the leadership will not accede to any attempt to force it to offer “pork” in exchange of loyalty.
Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr., president of the National Unity Party (NUP) which is the second biggest party at the House, said the NUP was the first party to endorse Cayetano as speaker last year and will continue to support his leadership in the remaining 21 months of the 18th Congress.
Barzaga is also part of the seven-man Cavite bloc which called for the completion of Cayetano’s term as speaker, citing his “leadership and his multi-partisan approach in solving issues and discharging our legislative mandate have enabled Congress to be a valuable partner of President Duterte in nation-building.”
Aside from Barzaga, the statement was signed by Reps. Abraham Tolentino, Jesus Crispin Remulla, Stike Revilla, Alex Advincula, Luis Ferrer IV and Francis Abaya.
“He is also instrumental in making sure that our legislative districts are sufficiently and equitably provided with funds for infrastructure and social development. This is quite unlike previous congresses where regrettably, partisan politics negatively affected the allocation of resources to the districts,” they said.
Cayetano thanked lawmakers after his colleagues took turns expressing support for his leadership, including former Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice of the Liberal Party and former speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.
“The leadership skills, the network of Alan Peter Cayetano is indispensable at this time. And we have to unite for him, we have to unite with him in these trying times,” Erice said in a privilege speech. “The honorable Representative Lord Allan Velasco, the brilliant gentleman from Marinduque, (has) been a good and thoughtful brother to me, and to all of us but I think at this very difficult time in our history, we don’t just need a good brother as much as we need the wisdom of a father.”
Alvarez, for his part, said Velasco should just give way to Cayetano because changing the leader of the Lower House at this time will not benefit the country because it will only be “divisive.”