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Monday, October 3, 2022

Cayetano vs Velasco saga continues: What’s really behind the 15/21 agreement?

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Jiggy Calucag
Dreamer. Youth Leader. Advocate. Liberal.

The showdown between current Speaker Allan Peter Cayetano of Taguig-Pateros and Cong. Lord Allan Velasco of Marinduque on the issue of Speakership displays the state of our politics: personality-driven, and glaringly the interests of the few prevails.

To end the row, the President intercedes convening both camps of Cayetano and Velasco, enforcing the term-sharing agreement. However, both camps didn’t agree on the commencement of the term-sharing, APC camp insisted that the President agreed to push it on December, while Velasco’s adamantly pushing for the October 14, 2020.  

After the meeting with the President as the unifying power broker for both camps, the Speaker delivered his privilege speech “to announce” the agreed terms of the meeting. At the end of his speech, Cayetano offered his resignation before the majority members of the House of Representatives, and practically called for vote of confidence among the members. His allies quickly rejected his resignation and in the words of Manolo Quezon III “didn’t quit and did the traditional parliamentary maneuver of piously placing himself at the mercy of his colleagues by offering to resign if they rejected him –a move you only make when you have the votes to ensure your offer will be rejected so you are ’forced’ to stay.” Velasco’s camp called it purely theatrics in order to hostage the 2021 budget.

Another point is raised: who is the real power broker in the House of Representatives? Pundits say that President Duterte is the real power broker since both APC and LAV are his political lieutenants, and traditionally the President controls the House. However, some political observers claimed that if Velasco was anointed on that night, the APC would have no recourse than to show that the President no longer controls the House, thus, will ‘force’ himself to stay. In effect, the way Cayetano behave shows that the President is no longer in command in the House of Representatives or the President is betting on the sitting speaker from the start?

Cracks in the President’s coalition?

The Speakership race is one way or another tied to Malacañang. It is yet to observed whether the term-sharing agreement consolidates or cracks the ruling coalition. However, there is one truth that is apparent, the power shakedown unravels the weakness of the coalition which is filled with people who are loyal to their own interests. Such interest is nothing but self-preservation – stay in power until next election cycle.

It is now a battle of factions within the supermajority coalition. It must be understood that changing the speakership also means changing the entire leadership of the House from Deputy Speakers down to committee chairpersons, vice-chairs, and even members!

This speakership drama will surely affect the balance of power within the administration’s coalition. It will also affect the President’s remaining legislative agenda, including the powerful General Appropriations Act of fiscal year 2021.

15/21 on 2021’s budget

The budget for the Fiscal Year 2021 is the elephant in the room vis-a-vis the term of the term-sharing agreement. Before the meeting, the Speaker intently announced that “House of Representatives will try to finish deliberations on the proposed P4.506 trillion national budget for 2021 by the end of September.” As soon as they passed it, the Senate will hear the same, ratify, and then submit to the President before the year ends which may take until December. The insistence of the President for the current speaker to stay, according to Cayetano, is primarily because of the swift and unadulterated budget that is amenable to all (executive branch and its pet projects, Congress, and coalition members).

The current season is also one of the most crucial terms of the term-sharing: finalizing the budget version. If APC stays, Cong. Velasco and his group can no longer fiddle with the GAA of 2021, with the commanding influence thereof as GAA 2021 be implemented next year down to the election season. Loosening grip on the budget practically makes you inutile. Interestingly, budget is where the incumbents draw their poll preparations. If Cong. Velasco’s camp can be able to elect him immediately, their districts can get a big share on the 2021 budget – an opportunity that Speaker APC’s camp would not simply give away. That is exactly one of the possible reasons why Cong. Velasco’s camp cannot accept extension.

Palace made a big pivot, extolling that the speakership row is now purely internal matters of the Congress. On the part of the Malacañang, their priority is to pass the budget on time to ensure continuity of governance. It is important to note that the budget, if passed on time, is a good tool to arrest all possible erosion of the President’s remaining political capital that I believe evidently declined due to government’s pandemic response. The late passage of GAA will be at the expense of President’s dwindling political capital.  

15/21 is 2022

The surge of Covid-19 is a health issue, but the way the government responds to it makes it a political one. This makes the 2022 elections more palpable than ever. In fact #Halalan2022 is trending from time to time in Twitter and it is always accompanied by litany of disappointments towards the government. While it is inconclusive, it could give a preview of how the people is tired with the government’s policies and pronouncements. The issue of the term-sharing makes the 2022 elections even nearer!

The Speakership race is all about the 2022 elections. One has to understand the might of the speakership – with huge amount of budget at disposal, excessive influence on the Congressmen, and even the programs of the executive. Analysts called this drama as APC and LAV’s way of ensuring their 2022 plans, whatever position it is.

Our politics: personality-driven, elitist

The state of our politics is truly sorry. Our political maturity remained stunted because of the domestication of personality-driven politics since time immemorial. The political culture and system are not based on principles. Dyadic alliances are formed based on common vested interest of these personalities, rather than based on ideology or principles they deeply hold.

At one point, during the Speaker’s privilege hour he narrated how their birthdays are relevant to the speakership it is as if it is part of criteria in selecting the leader of the House. It sounds so elitist. This personality-driven politics will always sabotage our attempt to be politically mature.

This recent shenanigan in the House of Representatives only shows the need for us to develop real political party system either through a law or constitutional reform.

As long as personalities dominate the political scene, our politics will remain third-world.

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Jiggy Calucag is a student of politics and history with special interest in partisan and election politics.

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