There is no stability, predictability, and sustainability in the three-year term of the bigger chamber. The Speaker has to be first among equals, has to be the stabilizing force, and has to crack the whip and push the legislative agenda of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Consolidation would have been the usual route after a successful electoral campaign but the victory of the regional HnP and national PDP has been short-lived, with the disarray in the House of Representatives and in the selection of the Speaker for the 18th Congress. Surely, the last regular session of the 17th Congress under Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is already a hard act to follow, what with a historic record of accomplishments in just one single session. Some would ponder the move made just a few days before the 2018 SONA. Had Speaker Bebot Alvarez not been removed, would the 17th Congress have ended on such a high note? With hindsight, the removal served well the legislative agenda of President Rodrigo Duterte and gave unique support in policy formulation and adoption when it came to dealing with inflation and basic commodities like rice, apart from the push for revenue enhancement measures and social protection legislation.
Congress is a deliberative body. Much of the work is done via consensus and compromise. Decision-making is inherently plenary. Nothing is decided upon unless a vote is made in plenary. President Rodrigo Duterte can only endorse but the final decision will still be the votes of 304 members in the people’s chamber and that of 24 members in the Senate. The House is composed of 243 district representatives and 61 party-list, serving three years of three consecutive terms while the Senate is elected at large, serving six years of two consecutive terms.
The Senate was able to control the so-called changing fortunes of leadership by passing a resolution in support of Senate President Tito Sotto 3rd in the last day of the 17th Congress. Immediately after the elections, the winning 12 broke bread with the leadership and the motion was set in on how to deal with and arrive at negotiated decisions on the chairmanships of standing committees as well as the officers of the chamber. The new system of filing for legislative measures for each senator was a most welcome reform as it allowed each senator to file their top 10 priorities or pet bills. Researchers can readily compare the campaign promises made with the measures filed. No senator “stole” measures filed before, unlike the practice of some years back where others merely copied and filed the measures of termed-out colleagues or were too fast on the draw and took others as their own. Senator Sotto remains the Senate President for the 18th Congress and it looks like things have been ironed out. There are 43 standing committees and three special bodies: the Commission on Appointments, Senate Electoral Tribunal and the Judicial and Bar Council.
As for the House, the courtship continues among the three names and some others that are being floated as possible compromise candidates. The three are Representatives Alan Peter Cayetano, Martin Romualdez and Lord Allan Velasco. The other names floated are those of Representatives Rufus Rodriguez, Ronnie Zamora and Sid Ungab. President Duterte was asked by the first three to intervene since no one appears to be willing to give way. The endorsement is valuable but still, being a deliberative body, the decision lies with the plenary.
Time sharing as an option is hard to enforce in the three-year term of the bigger chamber. There is no stability, predictability and sustainability. Months in Congress are not 28 working days but three session days a week, or 12 session days a month. Gone is the practice of 100 session days straight before a recess. At most, a regular session is 78 session days. Fifteen months is one regular session. There are three regular sessions per Congress. It takes until late September before the House can organize itself to do business. Partly because of the horse trading on chairmanships of committees, approval of the rules and the designation of officers of the chamber. There are 60 standing committees and 15 special committees. How would time sharing work? How would the 15-21 pan out? Considering 2022 is presidential election year, congressional work would begin to wane at starting in December 2020. So, what of 15-21? Would the House first vote on the time-sharing option, then vote on the speakership? How would it be implemented?
That is why the Speaker has to be primus inter pares, first among equals. He has to be the stabilizing force. He has to crack the whip and push the legislative agenda of President Duterte. And coming in after Arroyo, those are huge shoes fill. Not much politics since she was in the sunset of her political career but she rose to the occasion and delivered for country. It was 68 session days of all work, work and work. She was able to harness all because she was a former president who knew her economics and could get the numbers behind a policy initiative.
Among the noisiest candidates for speaker today, the presumptive Cayetano shows a lot of political immaturity in his ways. From the get go, “I am running to be Speaker” to the threat to the presidential daughter re breaking the coalition, to extending the term of the members of the House, cutting the terms of members of the Senate, creating more bureaucracy in the House which by design is already a legislative maze, among others. And just like that, with the announcement by President Duterte of his endorsement of Cayetano, came “if Romualdez will consider VP,” he will support it. The trial balloons are everywhere and that does not augur well for an administration which is on its last three years and winning a midterm by almost a sweep.
Cayetano is NP, Romualdez is NUP and Velasco is PDP. You would think that PDP would get it being the adopted party of President Duterte. And just like that, because the leader is unable to crack the whip, the Mindanao agenda has been sacrificed that even a Sid appears to be on the sidelines. And you would think the trapo ways are gone with the Duterte win. It appears the top political “assassin” got one foot in, same doggone persistence when he got the VP in the 2016 ticket of Duterte. The edifying years of Cayetano’s political career is summed up by what? From president Arroyo to Manny Villar to Juan Ponce Enrile to vice president Jejomar Binay and yes, Jesus Christ the Lord has been invoked in all these political plays. Tell me what’s true? The vice presidential candidates in 2016 were six but designed to have three Trojans (Cayetano, Escudero and Trillanes) to harm who and ensure the victory of whom? Would LP today vote for the presumptive? Not hard to figure that one. For as Bonaparte said, “in politics, an absurdity is not a handicap.”