As in physics, politics: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” says Newton’s third law, and a rule of thumb for the political game. In recent months, as inflation increased together with public grumbling, Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo seized upon rice prices and inflation as a stick with which to beat the President’s economic team about the head and shoulders. They were summoned to the House to be lectured. A new budget would not, it seemed, be forthcoming. The Palace seemed both helpless and clueless.
It took some months to recover, but it seems it has some of its old fighting spirit back as the Speaker inches toward becoming a lame duck the moment the budget is signed, and everyone decamps to their home districts to campaign. This may explain the budget being taken hostage, as the Speaker tries to maintain some sort of political momentum — no budget means, for one thing, she could attend to other business, such as trying to pass a Charter change resolution, the quorum needed for the budget being essential to the prospects of that resolution.
With uncertainty remaining on her future prospects — chatter concerning her hammering out a deal with Lilia Pineda to swap places has petered out — a trial balloon was floated, speculating that Speaker Arroyo ought to become the next secretary of finance.
Soon afterward, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III made a speech pointing to Arroyo’s NBN-ZTE deal as a “scandalous mismanagement of Chinese financing.” Obviously, it was bad enough having Dominguez’s competence questioned; a gambit to deprive him of a job, even if a mere trial balloon, was the last straw.
Budget and Management Secretary Benjamin Diokno chimed in around this time, echoed by friendly voices in the Senate, grumbling about the shockingly large congressional allocations for the Speaker’s Pampanga district. Congressional scuttlebutt had it that this was really a recycled scheme, one pioneered by the previous, deposed speaker, who’d cunningly padded the allocations of some districts to serve as a kind of reservoir that could then be shifted to projects in other districts on an as-needed basis. The surprising thing was that the new management had simply done the same thing, and more obviously at that.
It goes without saying that the message being sent out on the eve of the campaign season was that the President might have been stunned by the manner in which his pet Speaker was ousted, but he, the President, has people who are prepared to claw back the Palace’s lost control over the Lower House. Again, a sign of how the Palace was growing back a spine was that the presidential spokesperson went so far as to invoke the President, saying he himself thought it was a good idea for the Speaker to explain why this shocking state of affairs had come to pass (without mentioning how it seemed A-OK under the previous speaker’s stewardship of the House).
But for every Diokno there’s a Pichay, and for every Dominguez there’s an Andaya. So Deputy Speaker Prospero Pichay questioned the legality of the sale of Mislatel to Dennis Uy and partners, striking at one of the flagship enterprises — and deals — of the current dispensation. So in turn, Mary Elizabeth Ty, who’d gotten Philip Pichay ousted from the House in 2016 after a court case voiding his 2013 election, filed a Comelec complaint to revoke his candidacy in 2019. Who knows what will happen there, but it’s clear Dennis Uy is far from being untouchable.
Then another Deputy Speaker, Andaya, as of this paper’s headline yesterday, spilled the beans on what he alleged was a contractor being in such a favorable situation that it received 30 projects even before Congress had enacted a budget. This is an assault on some of the cherished notions of the President, who, it should be remembered, has repeatedly called for the review and relaxation, if not outright abolition, of government bidding regulations. Yesterday, the President reportedly said he had no intention to scrutinize appointees to see if they met eligibility requirements — a logical extension of his war on regulations.
It may be that now begins a new chapter in the President’s career — the recovering strongman. He’s expected to do now what most other presidents would have done months ago—determine, with finality, the 12-strong administration senatorial slate (and no more, lest the faithful get confused and void their votes by voting for the current 13-person tally of Hugpong!).