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Velasco gains House majority

Michelle R. Guillang

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Two stalwarts of the House of Representatives believe that Marinduque Representative Lord Alan Velasco now has the numbers to take over the House leadership on 14 October whether or not Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano steps down to honor their term-sharing deal.

Cayetano and his allies have turned off their colleagues enough to withdraw their support as a result of the incumbent leader’s theatrics and antics to frustrate the deal that President Rodrigo Duterte wanted implemented.

The legislators believe that Mr. Duterte’s ignoring a manifesto of support that the camp of Cayetano attempted to present in their pursuit of junking the gentlemen’s agreement was the tipping point for many legislators to abandon Cayetano.

Buhay Partylist Rep. Lito Atienza said support for Cayetano is slipping away after clearly backtracking from the 15-21 deal brokered by President Duterte and the recent move of his allies to dismiss Rep. Mikee Romero as Deputy Speaker.

Romero is the president of the Party-list Coalition Foundation Inc. (PCFI), one of the biggest political groups in the House of Representatives composed of 52 partylist groups.

During the 29 September meeting in Malacañang, President Rodrigo Duterte made himself clear to Cayetano to let Velasco, assume the Speakership on the agreed date, PBA Partylist Rep. Jericho Nograles said.

“The ending of the meeting was: The President gave Speaker Cayetano an assignment, which is to announce that the Chief Executive wanted the 15-21 agreement to push through,” Nograles said on Sunday.

Aside from the 54 partylist congressmen, Atienza said he was also quite sure the President’s political party, PDP-Laban, “will be in support of Velasco.” There is a total of 65 House members belonging to the dominant political party.

“I am sure the political chieftains will stick with the President,” he added.

The National People’s Coalition, which has 35 members in the House, is also backing Velasco as speaker.

Aside from Cayetano’s Nacionalista Party, the Speaker gets support from the 43-member National Unity Party (NUP) headed by Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga.

Atienza’s computation gives Velasco 154 supporters which will be enough to win him the Speakership vote.

With such number, Velasco could theoretically have the Speaker’s seat declared vacant on 14 October — the supposed date of the turnover for the Speakership — and win the post if Cayetano reneges anew.

“All he (Velasco) has to do is call the smaller groups,” noted Atienza.

Cayetano’s allies hold the 184 House members who voted to reject Cayetano’s offer to resign last Wednesday as proof of support but Atienza was one of them.

Atienza said he only did so because he reckoned the proper time for the Speaker to resign was on 14 October.

Out of order
Nograles added that booting out Romero was not based on House rules.

If the deputy speakership is declared vacant, Nograles said, an election must have been held instead.

The seat was not declared vacant and Romero did not resign, yet the motion to substitute him with Castro was accepted.

“There was no rule in Congress that there can be substitution. The substitution of Rep. Fred Castro and Rep. Romero violated the rules of the House of Representatives,” Nograles stressed.

He also noted that Cayetano’s offer of resignation is not found in any rules of the House.

“Resignation from Congress is simple, it either is written or declared publicly on the open floor,” he said.

Nograles added Anakalusugan Partylist Rep. Mike Defensor’s motion to reject the Speaker’s offer was “technically out of order” yet no one rejected it as everyone else was muted in the virtual meeting.

“I raised a point of order but they muted my microphone so that I would not be heard. I posted an objection to those proceedings in our Viber group. They can only claim that our technology is not 100 percent (working),” he stated. Negros Oriental 3rd District Representative Arnolfo Teves Jr. was not the only one whose microphone was turned off when he was raising his point before the House members.

Atienza’s sound system was also muted when he was asked if he is against Cayetano’s resignation to which he supposedly answered “yes, he should resign on 14 October.”

“Alan had lost a lot of support,” Atienza said.

Not interested
A source had told Daily Tribune that when Cayetano’s camp was about to present a manifesto of support signed by 205 lawmakers, no less than President Duterte shunned the offer which was an indication that he is strongly for the term-sharing deal.

Cayetano, however, after the meeting with the President took the rostrum and offered his resignation before the members of Congress instead of announcing the implementation of the deal with Velasco.

Because of this, Cayetano may have committed a big blunder for defying what Duterte has ordered him, Atienza said.

“October 14, that was what the President said. So, honor your word!” the lawmaker added.

When Cayetano’s group removed Velasco’s ally from his post as deputy speaker, Atienza averred that it was Cayetano who had lost support not Velasco.

During Friday’s plenary session, Deputy Majority Leader Xavier Jesus Romualdo moved to replace 1-PACMAN Rep. Michael Romero with Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro.

This occurred despite the agreement between the President, Cayetano and Velasco that except from the Speakership post, no House leadership post will be changed.

Budget at risk
The Congress will not be able to pass the budget on time, Nograles added.

The lawmakers lost one day and a half of legislative time when Cayetano suspended the next day’s deliberation, Nograles noted.

“Every hour that is lost will delay the passage of the budget,” Nograles said.

“What the congressmen are doing now is they work on it overtime. If the budget is being rushed, like what’s happening now, there will be a lot of issues there,” he added.

The same observation was echoed by Oriental Mindoro 1st District Rep. Doy Leachon.

“These repressively draconian stunts being shown by the House leadership like the unceremonious stripping off from key positions of perceived non-allied leaders do not in any way promote harmony among house members,” Leachon said.

“Worse, if these would carelessly persist, the unnoticed growing resentment among congressmen particularly on the issue of their immensely inequitable district budget allocation might later be blown out of proportion to the detriment of the ongoing deliberation, the urgent legislative priorities and the consequential stained image of Congress by reason of the power struggle,” he continued.

Leachon, a supporter of Velasco, said despite the squabble, Velasco assured that “no shake-up in committee chairmanships would thereafter happen.”

Velasco, nevertheless, expects Cayetano to resign on 14 October.

“We expect him to hand over the authority to Cong. Velasco with both of them exhibiting true traits of gentlemen complying with their earlier agreement witnessed by President Duterte last 29 September 2020,” Leachon said.

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