The birthday war
Interesting developments are unfolding on our political front. President Duterte was slapped twice in the face — figuratively, that is — but instead of growling like an angry lion as he usually does when he’s defied, he has suddenly turned into a meek lamb. On the other hand, our House of Representatives’ congresspersons were twice ordered by the President to toe the line, but instead of complying like the docile lambs that they are when faced with presidential directives, they have suddenly turned defiant like insolent elephants.
Last year, President Duterte forged a term-sharing agreement between Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano and Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco for the Speaker position. As brokered by Mr. Duterte, Cayetano would serve as House leader for 15 months while Velasco would preside over the remaining 21 months. The change in leadership was supposed to take place on Oct. 14, but a few weeks before the turnover, Cayetano declared that he was ditching the agreement. This was the first slap in the face of the President.
Last week, Mr. Duterte invited Cayetano and Velasco to Malacañang in order to settle the conflict. The President reportedly succeeded in convincing Cayetano to turn over the House leadership to Velasco on Oct. 14, in compliance with the earlier agreement. A day after the meeting, however, Cayetano gathered his House allies and they announced that they would not allow Velasco to take over as Speaker. This was the second slap in the face of the President.
Where is Cayetano’s sudden gumption to defy the President coming from? Ever since he assumed the speakership, he has been an eager-beaver at pleasing Mr. Duterte. With the merest hint of presidential displeasure against any person or institution, Cayetano gives teeth to the anger by maneuvering to withhold a franchise (ABS-CBN), or by calling for an investigation (Facebook), among many other examples.
Is it a make-or-break struggle for Cayetano to push for his plans of becoming the administration candidate in the 2022 presidential election? Are we witnessing a pivotal battle between Cayetano and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, with the latter naturally being her father’s first pick to succeed him?
Why is the President uncharacteristically silent in the face of brazen defiance, and why is he not backing up Velasco all the way? Is it because Representative Velasco’s father, Presbitero Velasco Jr., is no longer Supreme Court justice whose vote matters in crucial political cases, and his constituency as current governor of Marinduque pales in comparison to vote-rich Taguig-Pateros, which Cayetano represents?
For ordinary congresspersons, the importance of the battle between Cayetano and Velasco solely translates into the amount of pork barrel they will get. Their support for either Cayetano or Velasco translates into their view of who will give them a bigger pork barrel allocation.
For Cayetano, if he fades into the faceless ranks of congresspersons two years before the elections and is divested of control over the levers of power that function as magnets for voters, he would effectively be kissing goodbye his presidential ambitions. For Velasco, his rise to the House speakership will add luster to the Velasco dynasty, and increase his potential of ascending to higher office by riding on the coattails of Mr. Duterte’s anointed heir.
Where does the public factor in in all this brouhaha? We get a glimpse of how our warring leaders value public opinion from how Cayetano and Velasco negotiated their term-sharing agreement. Cayetano wanted to remain as Speaker until November because he wanted to celebrate his 50th birthday as House leader this October. Velasco also wanted to be Speaker this October because he wanted to celebrate his birthday as House leader in November.
That’s how shallow and insensitive our leaders are to public opinion. They don’t give a damn about how vain and crass their reasons are for deciding state affairs. Members of the public are not even considered spectators. We are rendered invisible. To our leaders, we do not matter. Only their birthdays matter.
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