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Palace: House Speakership a numbers game

President Rodrigo Duterte is still hopeful that House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano will honor his term-sharing deal with Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, the Palace said Tuesday.

In a virtual Palace briefing, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte wanted his two allies to take turns in holding the highest position at the House of Representatives.

However, Roque said even if Duterte wanted the term-sharing agreementto be honored, he could not do anything if the “supermajority” of the lawmakers wanted Cayetano to stay as House Speaker.

“He’s hoping they would honor their term-sharing deal but if congressman Lord Allan doesn’t have the numbers, he can’t do anything,” Roque said in a mix of Filipino and English.

Roque said the fate of the next House speaker will depend on the decision of the individual members of the House of Representatives.

Even as Cayetano on Tuesday accused him of masterminding efforts to oust him as House leader, Velasco said in a statement that he has kept silent “during the duration of the Gentleman’s agreement in deference and respect to the sitting Speaker.”

“My silence does not mean I am disinterested, nor I have turned my back on the covenant,” said Velasco, who also posted his statement on  his Facebook page.

“’Mum on issues’ means I just don’t want to call attention to myself.

Being party to the term-sharing agreement, one does not and should not seek to compete with the current Speaker as a gentleman’s agreement is in force. We will have our turn at the right time,” the Marinduque solon said.

Velasco said that since he became a lawmaker, “I have worked quietly, away from publicity, to support this Administration and help accomplish the legislative agenda of President Duterte to improve the lives of the Filipino people.”

“When both parties finally honor the agreement, I will show my colleagues the kind of leadership I espouse. Thereafter, at the end of my term, my peers can then be the judge of my loyal service to God, to the President, and ultimately, to the Filipino people,” he said.

In an interview over ABS-CBN News Channel on Tuesday, Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte said the supermajority of congressmen want Cayetano to continue instead of letting Velasco take over.

Villafuerte said he believed that Velasco would not be able to put up a good fight against Cayetano since he was "never really active in Congress."

“I haven’t seen or heard congressman Lord be active in any major issue. We don’t see him in Congress. It was really his choice not to be the presumptive speaker. The congressmen now are saying we’d rather let Speaker Alan continue because he’s active, he performs, he’s qualified, these are the general sentiments of congressmen,” Villafuerte said.

Under the term-sharing deal brokered by Duterte, Cayetano would serve as the House Speaker for the first 15 months, or until October 2020 while Velasco would take over and assume the position for the remaining 21 months or until 18th Congress ends in 2022.

Earlier, Roque said Duterte wants the P4.5-trillion proposed budget for 2021 passed before the end of the year amid squabbles among members of the House of Representatives over budget allocations for infrastructure.

“Let’s just say, because the 2021 budget is also our biggest stimulus package, it’s not negotiable for the President, the budget has to be passed on time,” he said.

Cayetano, meanwhile, alleged that Velasco and his camp expected the leadership change to happen on Monday's session with a motion to declare the Speaker and Deputy Speaker positions vacant.

“Congressman Velasco and his supporters were expecting that. Some of his supporters were actually trying to get the numbers [to succeed]," Cayetano told a radio interview.

"From their side, they want gentleman’s agreement, and I abide by the agreement. But I think this has been their third or fourth coup attempt. They keep on trying because they believe this time they will succeed, but they didn't," he added.

Velasco has yet to respond to Cayetano's accusation.

Cayetano said he believed that Velasco wanted to assume the post "from the start" despite the existing term-sharing deal.

He added Velasco had claimed he would assume the speakership by Oct. 14 but Cayetano said his 15-month term would expire by the end of October.

"He’s been involved, and he’s involved in the intrigue in Congress. We have agreed to support each other: He will support me during my time, I will support him during his time. But I never experienced his support from the very start," he said.

Cayetano said he will seek Duterte's advice by November on the speakership issue.

"I told the President I will go to him when it comes to November. I will seek his guidance as head of the coalition, then we will see what will happen," he said.

Cayetano said he will not allow a few congressmen who wanted him to step down to derail the deliberations on the proposed 2021 national government budget.

Cayetano said if indeed his fellow legislators are not happy with the way he is running the affairs of the House, he will step down anytime.

Cayetano's statement came following the threat of a leadership change that was supposed to take place on Monday's session.

The alleged plot to unseat Cayetano over the alleged inequitable share of funds for lawmakers' districts in the 2021 budget came following a text message which circulated among legislators over the weekend that the House Mindanao Bloc, led by the President's son, Davao City Rep.

Paolo Duterte, would move to declare the posts of Cayetano and deputy speakers as vacant.

But no motion to that effect was made as the House plenary session was suspended only 18 minutes after it was called to order.

Cayetano said he believes the young Duterte was a statesman and a team player, and that he respects him in the same manner he respects the Office of the Speaker.

"I believe we are friends—he clarified that he does not want his name to be dragged into the mess and wanted that the funds are properly allocated," Cayetano said.

The young Duterte earlier confirmed sending a text message to lawmakers telling the Mindanao bloc to declare House leadership positions vacant on Monday afternoon if they have issues involving budgetary allocations for the legislative districts of congressmen.

"The text message that I sent to another lawmaker — and is now making the rounds — was an expression of my personal dismay upon hearing the concerns of my fellow lawmakers," the young Duterte said.

Cayetano, meanwhile, apologized to the public over the squabble at the chamber over budget issues.

"Let me take this opportunity to apologize to the public. Only one or two congressmen are quarreling over funds," he said.

For now, Cayetano said the "House is focused on finishing the ongoing budget deliberations and allocating the funds needed to help boost the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic."

But in a privilege speech Tuesday, Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro slammed Velasco over the alleged plot to unseat Cayetano over the budget issue.

Castro said Velasco showed his "true self" instead of being a statesman and waiting for his turn to assume the post soon.

"The Speaker... took pains to accommodate your political allies in the leadership... But miserably, you reciprocated this goodness and offer of unity… with discord among our ranks,” Castro said, directly addressing Velasco.

Topics: Rodrigo Duterte , Harry Roque , Alan Peter Cayetano , Lord Allan Velasco , House speakership , House of Representatives
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