A Divided House

The Cayetano-Velasco feud clearly shows a house divided, a fragile super majority that President Duterte's political party and coalition at the House of Representatives.

Newspaper, television and radio news, and online news headlines have been dominated recently by the open rift between House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco and their respective camps. The in-fighting within the majority at the House of Representatives is rooted at the supposedly "term-sharing agreement" between Cayetano and Velasco that was brokered by President Rodrigo Duterte, who was not supposed to be involved in the matter but was forced to do so to keep the calm within the House of Representatives super majority, an essential element in ensuring that his legislative agenda will be acted upon quickly, effectively and efficiently by the congressmen, right after the 2019 midterm elections. Cayetano was supposed to serve as House Speaker for 15 months and then Velasco will take over the top post and serve for 21 months.

During the latter part of September, tensions between the Cayetano and Velasco camps re-emerged at a time when the House was working on passing the 2021 National Budget, which is now more crucial than ever since it involves the Duterte administration's response to the COVID-19 pandemic and post-pandemic economic recovery measures. Members of both sides shamelessly traded barbs before the media, accusing each other of not honoring the "term-sharing agreement" and pursuing a self-serving agenda, especially those tied with the National Budget. At the prodding of some key personalities, President Duterte was compelled to once again get involved, calling Cayetano, Velasco and several other congressmen to Malacanang to have a dialogue, with both Cayetano and Velasco agreeing in front of the President that the "term-sharing agreement" will be honored.

The day after the meeting at Malacanang, things turned out different at the House. Cayetano took the floor during the plenary session to address his colleagues, give his narration of what happened at Malacanang the day before, tell everyone that he challenged Velasco if he could get the job of passing the National Budget in time done and accusing him and his camp of "spreading rumors" about the "term-sharing agreement", and even showed copies of the Bible and the 1898 Treaty of Paris to "affirm his commitment to God and the country" and remind fellow congressmen of their own "commitments." He said that wanted to be House Speaker by the time he celebrates his 50th birthday. He concluded his lengthy speech by offering his resignation as House Speaker, a move which was opposed by 184 of his colleagues in what was being interpreted as a show of force by Cayetano to Velasco and his camp and even to President Duterte himself.

This was not the first time that the House of Representatives had seen several sudden key changes for House Speaker. In 2000, when then House Speaker Manuel Villar rushed the impeachment of President Joseph Estrada on the basis of various offenses and sent the articles of impeachment immediately to the Senate for trial, he was voted out and replaced by Camarines Sur Rep. Arnulfo Fuentebella, who served briefly at the top post before being replaced by Quezon City Rep. Feliciano "Sonny" Belmonte upon the assumption of then Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to the presidency. When President Macapagal Arroyo and House Speaker Jose de Venecia had a political falling out over several issues, De Venecia was replaced as House Speaker by Davao City Rep. Prospero Nograles. During the first half of President Duterte's six-year term, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez was removed by his colleagues due to his antics and inability to act on key legislative agenda of the President and was replaced at the top post by former President and then Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, making her the first female first female House Speaker in Philippine history.

The Cayetano-Velasco feud clearly shows a house divided, a fragile super majority that President Duterte's political party and coalition at the House of Representatives. Unlike in other countries where parties operate based on principle and political positions, Philippine political parties are mostly motivated by agenda or what will help the politicians maintain access to Malacanang and the National Purse, and keep themselves in power for years. This is what I see in the in-fighting within the House majority, which actually reflects not only on the leadership of the lower chamber of Congress but indirectly on President Duterte. With Cayetano and Velasco continuing their nonsensical pissing contest, the legislative agenda of President Duterte is definitely going to be set aside and the passage of the vital 2021 National Budget is in peril.

The two feuding camps at the House of Representatives are doing a great disservice to the Filipino people with they are doing. They are showing their constituents that they are not really representing their interests but more of what will work for them and their interests, especially if they will take control of the House leadership and the chairmanship of key House committees. The quarreling congressmen should be ashamed of themselves for acting like juveniles not only in front of President Duterte but also to the people who entrusted their votes, trust and faith in them.

For the good of the House of Representatives, the government, and the Philippines and the Filipino people, Alan Peter Cayetano and Lord Allan Velasco and their respective camps should honor whatever they have agreed upon earlier and stop bickering. A lot of things needs to be done, especially now that the country is still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and must implement policy reform measures that will help recover quickly, and, in the medium- to long-term, bring economic development and prosperity to all areas that all Filipinos can benefit from. A united House is and will always be better than a divided House at a time like this.

About the Author
Benedict is an agricultural economist, academician and writer. He has gained experience and expertise in various fields of economics, business, political science and public relations after through professional ventures in the academe, and in the public and private sectors. He has authored or co-authored key publications on topics ranging from agriculture and food security to global affairs and politics.
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