The Speakership wars

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    ‘The other unwitting loser in this entire muck up is President Duterte himself. By disregarding the truce he brokered between the two warring factions, his own allies have damaged the President’s political capital at this point in time.’

    EVERY president is sensitive to being called a lame duck right after the passing of the midterm elections, and rightly so, as a lot more can still be done in the second half of one’s term. It’s hard even when you are the nation’s most powerful man or woman, especially if the political winds start blowing in another direction. Navigating the changing tides requires masterful maneuvering to ensure that your majority is solid enough to still push meaningful reform and legislation, up to the last hour possible. An integral factor in helping the Chief Executive navigate these waters is strong leadership from his allies in the Senate and in the House, who should be relied upon to make sure that the national budget is passed on time, as well as priority legislation essential to the President’s agenda.

    It seems that the Speakership of the House during the Duterte administration has been a very contentious one, giving insight on how tenuous the bonds holding this supermajority together are. Recall the drama that gripped the 2018 State of the Nation Address, with Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez hanging on by his thumbs through the President’s speech, only to be unseated after by then-Pampanga representative and former President Gloria Arroyo.

    Remember, too, the dust up for the Speakership at the close of the midterm elections, which eventually ended up being settled with a term-sharing agreement between Taguig Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano and Marinduque legislator Lord Allan Velasco.

    Which brings us to the current situation, as the said term-sharing agreement is set to expire on October 14, with Velasco taking the helm of the House. But it seems Cayetano isn’t willing to go down without a fight, engineering a vote of confidence (complete with the brandishing of the Bible and a mention of the Treaty of Paris) of sorts right after President Duterte supposedly put his foot down so that the “gentleman’s agreement” could proceed.

    Outwitted and outflanked, Velasco resorted to answering the media onslaught from Cayetano’s allies with a video posted on his Facebook account, explaining his side of the story.

    To some members of Congress, Cayetano’s maneuvering may earn grudging respect as masterful executions of parliamentary action, successfully giving his cause “the numbers” to keep the post. To some, Velasco’s restraint may be admirable, and his refusal to engage in an out-and-out fist fight reflective of his “statesman” behavior. But to ordinary observers, let’s call a spade a spade: this is a dumpster fire. COVID-19 cases are still on the rise, many of our teachers and our school children are ill-equipped for distance learning, many of our businesses are still struggling to find their footing in this pandemic—and yet, our congress people are fighting over who gets to sit at the head of the table.

    When asked why one wants to stay and the other wants to sit, there was an utterance about celebrating their respective birthdays as Speaker. If I didn’t hear it from a reputable report, I wouldn’t have believed it, too—we have degenerated into justifying qualification of one of the highest positions in the land by entitlement (and not advantage to the public or their constituents, mind you) simply because one wants to check off an item on one’s personal bucket list.

    The other unwitting loser in this entire muck up is President Duterte himself. By disregarding the truce he brokered between the two warring factions, his own allies have damaged the President’s political capital at this point in time. No matter how his mouthpieces will deny this and hide behind the cloak of separation of powers, it falls to the President as the leader of this coalition to settle disputes, and to settle them definitively.

    President Duterte doesn’t seem like the type to tolerate disobedience, so either he’s not there altogether or he’s just given up on trying to get his own allies to toe the line.

    Either way, it’s not a good look for a President who still needs to get a lot of things done, especially in the face of this pandemic we are struggling through. And all this time and energy bickering about who gets to sit where and who gets to spend what is taking attention away from issues that need solving, to the detriment of the constituents these people are supposed to be serving.