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House war for turf and budget

The appalling display of petulance and privilege by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and his lieutenants on Wednesday at the House of Representatives illustrated how Filipinos are constantly being shafted by their handsomely paid public servants. The speechifying Cayetano, bound by a brokered arrangement to turn over the reins of the chamber early this month to Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, had no compunction in invoking divine intervention in what has descended into a tug-of-war, when all he had to do was stop the BS and honor his end of the so-called gentleman’s agreement. As is happening, days that can be spent to further scrutinize the proposed national budget of P4.5 trillion and its suspicious features are going down the drain, on the say-so of the ruling cabal at the House. Who do these people think they are? Among ordinary mortals, a salary deduction at the very least would be in order.

It was bad enough that the contenders and their claques trooped to Malacañang Tuesday night to bring the matter to the attention of the broker himself, President Duterte, even as the pandemic raged and impoverished folk waited in vain for “ayuda.” Photos of the event showed everyone seated, the supplicants facing the big guy, some of their supporters behind them and at the fringes of the hall, and—hardly a surprise—the President’s longtime minder, Sen. Bong Go, at the center. Did no one think of the positioning of the dramatis personae, for appearances’ sake? Well, maybe they did, to show what’s what. Yet on Thursday, the President’s spokesperson Harry Roque was heard saying that the leadership row at the House was an internal affair in which the other branches of the government would not interfere. Talking to himself again.

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To further befuddle the public, the claims and counterclaims of the contending camps on what exactly transpired on Tuesday night have produced a situation a la “Rashomon” (not that any of the involved parties could possibly be bothered by that meditation on the ironies of objective truth). But it’s looking like the President’s efforts were for naught. Despite reports that he had counseled fidelity to the term-sharing agreement, the Wednesday vote for Cayetano to stay put displayed his and his camp’s grim intention to not cede turf and to ensure control of the budget—most important for the coming election season.

Did the Speaker actually dare displease his patron, or is the latter losing his clout?

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The Wednesday “drama,” as this newspaper’s banner headline put it, provided an idea of what could happen if Velasco takes the coveted post on Oct. 14. (Not that Velasco is a complete wuss: It’s said that his backing is formidable, and that he’s no slouch in the money department.) Pantaleon Alvarez’s steep fall from grace not too long ago, and in the presence yet of Sara Duterte’s father, may have passed before his, Alvarez’s, eyes; those of a certain age may have been reminded of how Jose de Venecia, 12 long years as Speaker, was removed during the reign of the very woman he had defended and championed. How easily a skillful play of numbers can make or unmake fortunes.

So now Cayetano and his minions have dug in, luxuriating in the “supermajority” approval of his continued hold on his post. Their hefty number didn’t need boosting, but 16 of the 28 members of the minority bloc in the chamber climbed aboard anyway, throwing out all regard for “palabra de honor” in the process of throwing themselves behind a leader who welshes on his word. “We are united with the Majority through our shared aspirations to serve the Filipino people, to fight for the oppressed, and to bring progress to the nation,” they said, presumably straight-faced, in a “manifesto of recommitment to the Filipino people and the leadership of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.”

They also said, incredibly, that politics should be set aside and focus directed at the public welfare: “Isantabi muna natin ang pulitika at tutukan natin ang dapat tutukan: ang kapakanan ng taumbayan.” The signatories included such seasoned politicians as Minority Floor Leader Benny Abante of Manila and Janette Garin of Iloilo, and even such come-latelies in the House as Gabriel Bordado Jr. of Camarines Sur, Stella Quimbo of Marikina City, and Vilma Santos-Recto of Batangas. The last three, along with Abante, were among the 11 who stood their ground against the House juggernaut that killed the ABS-CBN franchise, showing how the ways of compromise are deftly learned in the politics of patronage.

Immediately after the toppling of De Venecia in February 2008, a masterful golpe overseen by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s two congressmen-sons, then Rep. Prospero Nograles of Davao City was voted in as his replacement. In his acceptance speech, per a PCIJ report, the new Speaker said he would “reform the House and improve its badly tarnished image.”

And so it goes.

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TAGS: Cayetano, House, House of Representatives, VELASCO
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