A tale of two Houses

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    ‘If both sides continue to stand their ground, we are looking at two Houses, with one questioning the existence of the other. A legal challenge will be inevitable, one that only the Supreme Court can settle…’

    UNDER the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines, we have a bicameral legislature, or two chambers: the Senate and the Lower House, or the House of Representatives. By the end of this writing, we just might have two Houses of Representatives: one led by Alan Peter Cayetano, and one under Lord Allan Velasco.

    It was another one of those events that unfolded right before our eyes, broadcast live on the news channels. Similar to an accident, it was something that you wanted to ignore but could not look away: reportedly 186 congressmen convened at the Celebrity Sports Plaza in Quezon City to declare the speakership post vacant. It was the latest debacle in the long-running tug-of-war between Cayetano and Velasco, simmering over months and finally bubbling over in the last week.

    I was quite amused to see a tweet from GMA journalist Victoria Tulad carrying the statement of House Sergeant-at-Arms Ramon Apolinario that the mace prominently placed at the center of the room in Celebrity Sports is “not the official mace of the House of Representatives.” We all remember how the official mace played a prominent role in the speakership scuffle between former Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, when the adult version of hide-the-mace happened to thwart the coup against Alvarez.

    News coverage volleyed between the Velasco rump session and Cayetano’s press briefing at the Batasang Pambansa. And now, one wonders: what’s next? It’s highly doubtful that either side will give in to the other, with one demanding for the names of the 186 legislators who supported Velasco. If both sides continue to stand their ground, we are looking at two Houses, with one questioning the existence of the other. A legal challenge will be inevitable, one that only the Supreme Court can settle, which we all know can take some months to decide. In the meantime, what will happen? Will the two factions conduct business? What will happen to the budget deliberations? Already, Cayetano is telling media that vice chairmen will take over the committees in case the chair does not show up (or ha-ha, jumped to the other side) indicating his resolve to continue conducting the business of the House under his direction.

    The other route of resolving this is the political solution, which lies at the hands of President Rodrigo Duterte. As head of the ruling coalition (one wonders if PDP-Laban, the President’s original party, actually remains the dominant party in terms of membership) he can step in and settle this fiasco at the soonest possible time, so that Congress can go back to the more relevant business of budget deliberations.

    It’s just funny because both sides seem to be hell-bent on convincing the public that they are the ones concerned for respecting the institution, focusing on the people’s issue, blah-blah. Expect the generals and lieutenants to go on their own media blitzes to press the point. But is anyone really convinced?

    Perhaps today will provide more clarity to this mess, as the House is expected to convene for a special session to continue deliberations on the budget. Will the budget finally take center stage, or will it fall victim yet again to political maneuvering and one-upmanship that has characterized the actions of the House leadership in the past weeks?