Using ‘democracy’ to defy Duterte
Lord Allan Jay Quinto Velasco (born November 9, 1977) is a Filipino lawyer and politician serving as the Speaker of the House of Representatives starting October 14, 2020.” Thus declares Wikipedia, determining with finality for its world of readers who the House Speaker will be in the coming months, even as the political tug-of-war for the position continues and Filipinos strain to see the final outcome. That Wikipedia statement could be incredibly simplistic, or incredibly astute.
When Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano triggered a vote of confidence last Wednesday by “offering to resign,” he knew what he was doing. He was in effect engineering a public defiance of the agreement brokered by President Duterte in Malacañang to refresh the earlier agreement in July 2019 between Cayetano, Lord Allan Jay Velasco, and Martin Romualdez. This agreement set a time-sharing handover of the speakership from Cayetano to Velasco on or about Oct. 14.
While repeatedly paying obeisance to Mr. Duterte, saying he would resign any time the President said so, Cayetano acted to push the envelope, using two gambits: (1) using the budget process to argue against “changing horses in midstream,” and (2) pointing out that Velasco did not have what it takes to be a Speaker and does not have the votes of the representatives. In less than 24 hours after the Malacañang meeting, Cayetano executed his dual gambit, taking the House plenary floor for almost one hour to make his case against Velasco. Cayetano capped his speech with an offer to resign the speakership, a well-established parliamentary technique for triggering a vote of confidence, then stepped out so the voting to reject (or accept) his offer could happen in due course. He handily won, with 184 out of some 300 possible nominal votes.
What made this move possible was the smokescreen created by both the Cayetano and Velasco parties as to what really transpired in Malacañang. It was in this cloud of confusion that Alan Peter Cayetano made his move, and it was a brilliant move. If Cayetano followed the spirit of the agreement and simply declared himself resigned, that would be it—no vote. With the agreement sanctioned by the solomonic intercession of President Duterte, in due time Lord Allan Jay Velasco would have been nominated and voted by the House of Representatives into the speakership. With Mr. Duterte’s endorsement, Velasco would be assured of the majority vote. In July 2019, Alan Peter Cayetano obtained some 266 votes when he was elected Speaker, not because he had these numbers, but because of the July 2019 term-sharing agreement that Mr. Duterte had brokered.
But Cayetano might have become too brilliant for his own good. He has just made a fool of Solomon, and Solomon doesn’t like being made a fool of. It is going to be particularly riling for Mr. Duterte because Cayetano is using—or misusing—”democracy” in the form of a parliamentary majority to defy Mr. Duterte.
The gods are actually stacked against Cayetano. He disregards the powerful wind beneath Lord Allan Jay Velasco’s sail, which is Sara Duterte. That Velasco insists on his share as speaker may not be for the purpose of promoting his higher political ambitions, for unlike Cayetano, he does not seem to be so aggressively ambitious. It may be for the purpose of derailing the presidential ambitions of one Alan Peter Cayetano. Come to think of it, who is Velasco, a political upstart, to be so persistent and painful a thorn in the side of Cayetano if it were not for Sara Duterte?
Will the gods allow Cayetano to get away with his transgressions? The country is entering a crucial election season that really starts next year. The speakership is too important a piece of political and logistical machinery to keep in the hands of a potential rival for the presidency. There’s the god in Malacañang and the god in Davao City Hall.
In the next two weeks, until Oct. 14, turbulent winds will continue to blow and will whip the House into line. Then Alan Peter Cayetano might realize the extent of his folly, or reveal that Mr. Duterte has become a lame duck. Then we will know whether Wikipedia has also become an oracle of Filipino political destinies.
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