1521, a gentleman’s agreement?

The figure 1521 sums up the gentleman’s agreement made in July 2019: “Cayetano would serve as Speaker of the House of Representatives for the first 15 months of the 18th Congress while Velasco would succeed to serve for the remaining 21 months under a term-sharing agreement.” The change would occur in October 2020, and that is the reason the current Speaker has ruled that the “House of Representatives will try to finish deliberations on the proposed P4.506 trillion national budget for 2021 by the end of September.” 

Note: This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on September 22, 2020

Pork barrel politics again reared its ugly head during the budget hearings of the standing committee on appropriations on the proposed 2021 budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) last week. Negros Oriental Third District Rep. Arnolfo “Arnie” Teves Jr. raised the issue of DPWH budget allocations to congressional districts, particularly those of Camarines Sur Second District Rep. Luis Raymond “LRay” Villafuerte, a member of the House leadership, and that of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano. Teves revealed what everyone is saying that pork is alive, that it is just being input at the executive level, and unlike before, it is not equally allocated. Teves further disclosed that “Taguig City is getting more than P8 billion while Camarines Sur is getting P11.8 billion from DPWH.”

If you look at the two examples made public by Teves, one would hope equity considerations had been made, considering that CamSur is not as developed as Taguig. What seems to be controlling is that Villafuerte, one of the 22 deputy speakers, is a close ally of the Speaker. He was involved in the unseating of Rep. Salvador “Doy” Leachon as head of the House electoral committee and Rep. Isidro “Sid” Ungab of the committee on appropriations on March 2 of this year on account of an alleged coup against Cayetano. Again, the main defender of the Speaker in that jostling was Villafuerte.

The House term-sharing arrangement had been packaged as a “wisdom of a Job,” Solomonic and all, but as it was rolled out, it has caused tremendous problems from the ballooning of the number of House officers and standing, special and ad hoc committees. The House of Representatives (HoR) has never been known for term-sharing since it contradicts the nature and composition of the chamber — members are elected by district. That is why declaring all seats vacant is hard to do because consensus has to be made in a skillful and confidential manner, taking into consideration the numbers. In the HoR, numbers dictate.

The effort to replace a sitting speaker has not worked efficiently; proof of which was the change between then-speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and former president Gloira Macapagal Arroyo in the 17th Congress. Post-EDSA Revolution, there were eight strong speakers, who ruled: Mitra (six years in the 8th Congress), De Venecia (6 years covering the 9th and 10th Congress); the 11th Congress saw three individuals alternating (Villar, Fuentebella and Belmonte); De Venecia came back (12th and 13th); Nograles (14th); and Belmonte (15th and 16th).

Leadership in the chamber has to be stable and consistent in order that the legislative agenda will not be compromised and the bureaucracy will not increase to the detriment of operations.

The figure 1521 sums up the gentleman’s agreement made in July 2019: “Cayetano would serve as Speaker of the House of Representatives for the first 15 months of the 18th Congress while Velasco would succeed to serve for the remaining 21 months under a term-sharing agreement.” The change would occur in October 2020, and that is the reason the current Speaker has ruled that the “House of Representatives will try to finish deliberations on the proposed P4.506 trillion national budget for 2021 by the end of September.” This would appear historical but the back room is saying this is to ensure that the incoming speaker, Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, can no longer tinker with the General Appropriations Act, ensuring a tight grip by the group of Cayetano as the administration rolls out in 2021 prior to the filing of the certificates of candidacy in October 2021. The proposed 2021 budget focuses on healthcare systems, food security, jobs through labor-intensive projects, building the digital government and economy, and helping communities cope. The healthcare sector includes budgetary support for the National Health Insurance Program, medical assistance to indigent patients, human resources for health programs and health facilities enhancement programs. The Department of Education remains the top agency in terms of allocation “to ensure educational continuity amid the health crisis.”

The events leading to the turnover, if it will happen at all, will show the maturity of our politics and our leaders. And that is the problem we have with the kind of politics we continue to have and the nature of our political parties. Our politics will never mature if it remains personality driven. The executive and legislative branches are independent from each other. The doctrine of the separation of powers is constitutionally enshrined, but the 1521 arrangement, designed by the executive, is problematic as it is. Worst of all, the President is exposed in such an arrangement, and party politics have a way of eroding the political capital of the leader from whom legislative leaderships consolidate their power base.

And that is the problem with a president adopted by political parties at the start of the presidential derby. The elected President is held captive by the whims and caprices of his party mates. They dictate and the leader manages all the expectations; absent party governance framework. A gentleman’s agreement is an “informal and legally nonbinding agreement between two or more parties. The essence of a gentleman’s agreement is that it relies upon the honor of the parties for its fulfillment rather than being in any way enforceable.

Approval and trust are two metrics of which politicians are well aware. They should not question why they are low in these two measurements at the rate news on pork politics frame the efficacy of the institution of elected leaders. Every budget season, pork politics are primed. And every year is a budget call and a submission of the National Expenditure Program to the institution of the people. The budget is the most important policy any Congress will debate upon annually. It tells the public the direction of the nation and its priorities. We fail if Congress just games the process. A better policy should be defined to ensure that equity considerations are adapted.

In fine, “if it be a sin to covet honor, I am the most offending soul.”

 

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About the Author
Malou Tiqiua is the Founder/General Manager of PUBLiCUS Asia Inc. A noted political management expert in the Philippines and Asia, she brings over 20 years of professional experience in public, private and the academe combined. Author of the comprehensive book on electoral campaigns in the Philippines, "Campaign Politics", Malou is a graduate of the University of the Philippines with a Political Science degree and a Master of Public Administration. She completed her second master's degree (MA in Political Management) from the Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University.
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