Wed. May 12th, 2021
Strike 1: Sara Duterte maneuvers to remove Pantaleon Alvarez as speaker and replace him with former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Part 1

The row between Alan Peter Cayetano and Lord Allan Velasco is not as simple as compliance to a gentleman’s agreement. It involves basic intervention from the absolute sovereign who is the Filipino people.

The people directly elected congressmen to represent them in Congress. They are the officers of the national government closest to them.

The delegation by their respective constituencies of their policy-making powers on a national level is more pronounced at district-level compared to parallel legislative powers they gave senators because the latter are elected at-large on a national basis.

Moreover, the framers of the Constitution intended Congress to be a house of congressmen and senators, not crocodiles or baboons.

So why should two legislators determine the future leadership of this deliberative body? That alone is already restricting democracy to the power brokers – this shit system that we inherited from the Americans since 1935. Why should the president of the country no less, no matter how gently, cross over to the legislative branch considering the separation of powers in our tripartite system?

I stand for a free vote by the congressmen, choosing their own leader without any pressure from anyone. On his own, Lord Allan Velasco has no numbers, so why should a minority leader be promoted to the speakership, just because of his high and mighty patrons?

Actually what is turning into a brawl did not begin with the incumbent speaker, the president or any contenders. It started so remotely from the lower house, in fact all the way from Mindanao with the president’s daughter, the mayor of Davao City.

It appeared that for whatever reason we will no longer discuss here, then speaker Pantaleon Alvarez got the ire of Sara Duterte-Carpio, who maneuvered his ouster.

Using Hugpong ng Pagbabago (Faction for Change), a political alliancein the Philippines that began as a regional political party in the Davao region, Duterte-Carpio mustered enough votes, in collaboration with former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo enabling the latter to serve as Alvarez’ replacement.

It appeared that power-brokering Duterte-Carpio wanted Velasco to replace Macapagal-Arroyo after her transitional term ended after a new set of congressmen were elected in 2019. A variable, however, Cayetano who lost the vice-presidential race in 2016 but who won a seat in Congress in 2019, introduced as he suddenly lusted to be Speaker.

That was how the 15:21 ratio of the three-year term of the speaker was arrived at a so-called gentleman’s agreement between Cayetano and Velasco.

As the end of the 15th month assigned to Cayetano beckons less than two weeks from now on October 14, realpolitik somewhat occupied the air. When the sitting speaker announced “I’m offering my resignation, here and now, to you my dear colleagues. My fate and the fate of the 2021 budget, and the fate of the leadership of the House is in your hands,” 184 voted to reject his resignation.

The mood in the house changed as an apparent “karma” created by the ousting of former Speaker Alvarez caught up with what could have been a smooth transition between Cayetano and Velasco.

The quake did not just erupt. Tremors actually re-ignited way back in the elections of 2019 when Alvarez of the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino – Lakas ng Bayan faced off with Hugpong sa Pagbabago ticket for the congressional and local seats in the Davao Region. The group of Alvarez won most of the positions in the Davao provinces, over the those of Duterte-Carpio.

The defeat of Hugpong was so ominous not only because its titular patriarch, Antonio Floirendo, failed to seek reelection for the second district of Davao del Norte but Sara Duterte-Carpio met her perhaps first political defeat.

She may be facing her second defeat in Alvarez’ hands in the race for speakership, now that Duterte-Carpio’s possible motivation is being questioned. It appears that Velasco’s wife, Rowena “Wen” Amara, is a bosom friend of the mayor of Davao City.

That friendship is not as scandalous however as what social media has been feasting on exposing serious matters of conflict of interest in that Wen Amara serves as a girl Friday of one of the biggest oligarchs in the country today – Ramon Ang, and his chief lobbyist in Congress.

Ang’s SMC’s South Premiere Power Corp.  (SPPC), the administrator of the Ilijan Power Plant in Batangas, is contesting the  claim by the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management (PSALM) Corp. that it still owes some P19.75 billion to the state-owned firm.

PSALM, however, won’t budge from its position that SPPC owes it P19.65 billion in unpaid dues, and has default and breach of contractual obligations, particularly the underpayment of amount due to government – the subject of the Commission on Audit’s adverse findings that also prompted PSALM to terminate the agreement.

Despite COA evidence, Velasco who was the chairman of the House Committee on Energy in the 17th Congress did not just fail to investigate SPPC to protect public interest in PSALM, but totally kept quiet about it.

Ramon Ang  has many infrastructure contracts involving the government, including the NLEX-SLEX connector skyway and the controversial Bulacan Aero City together with the New Manila International Airport north of Manila but south of Clark.  A trial balloon flew last week, with some upstarts endorsing that Ramon Ang run for president in 2022.

After a string of political losses supporting Grace Poe twice for the senate in 2013 (despite unresolved questions of natural born citizenship) and for president in 2016 (before shifting at the ultimate minute in favor of Duterte), may now be overturned into a strategic victory by the San Miguel CEO, birthing with the Velasco’s possible speakership.

Many do not see the oligarchic hand. What is easier perceived by those who do not understand parliamentary workings is that the presidential preference or the president’s daughter’s wish should always be obeyed especially if the head-of-state is a popular.

This is not to cast aspersion on the leadership of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, but to call attention to the political realities in the Philippines. As far back as two years ago, a reliable source leaked to me that his own son-in-law Maneses “Mans” Carpio was busy shortlisting suppliers for reclamation landfill, aggregates and construction materials for the massive aerocity project of Ramon Ang.

The president, however, has quickly left the scene.

In fact as we speak, President Rodrigo Duterte will no longer interfere on the issue as Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte now views the issue on who will be the next House Speaker as an “internal matter” that could be settled by members of the chamber, adding the president respects the House of Representatives’ voting to reject the resignation of Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano as its leader.

The president, it appears, is more interested in getting the proposed P4.56-trillion 2021 budget passed before the end of the year. It appears that to put Malacanang in its proper place, the risk of yet another reenacted budget has been thrown into the ring by disgruntled lawmakers.

Strike 2 – Pantaleon Alvarez resurfaces towards the conclusion of Alan Peter Cayetano’s 15th month as speaker.

The birthday party system

On a much larger scale, however, the legislative reform Congress urgently needs is not a just facelift in leadership but a severe overhaul.

The health of a parliament really belongs to the health of the political party or parties that comprise it. The truth of the matter is that the political party system in the country is so weak and flawed, and so corrupt nothing can be predictable.

If Hugpong captures the speakership, expect a long queue of “personalities” asking to move over. The biggest casualty will be PDP.

I call it the “birthday” party syndrome.

In a birthday party, everybody huddles around the celebrant and have a piece of the birthday cake, and it goes ad nauseam.

Let’s get down to history.

With the descent of the presidential system crafted by the Americans in 1935, the country’s politicians started moving towards the parliamentary system. Its replacement the 1973 constitution, as refined by amendments up to 1984, knocked down the upper house of Congress and formed an interim assembly that transitioned into a unicameral Batasang Pambansa.

Technically the decision to change the system slowly opened up the traditional two-party system into a multiparty system. In parliament, delegates are elected directly by the people from many parties that form a coalition raising a majority that in turn elect the head of government. That government harnesses the human resources of the parliament in running the executive functions, erstwhile performed by a separate executive branch in the former presidential form.

In a parliament, the prime minister heads both the legislative and the executive functions. (A distinction is made here because in the Philippine model, the head-of-state remains to be directly elected by the people, and is separate from the head of government.)

The confusion started when in 1986, when the regime change brokered by the Americans returned the presidential system, borrowing some parliamentary features from the Batasang Pambansa.

One of these features is the multi-party system.

Multi-partyism is fine even in the presidential form to give as much democratic space to as many candidates there are to a position. But this must be balanced by effort to simplify into a coalition.

In the election for the executive branch, the chances of installing winning candidates on the basis of a majority votes diminish as candidates increase. The more candidates there are for a single position, the more likely the one that has the most plurality, not majority, wins.

The syndrome has been repeating since the first presidential elections after President Corazon Aquino. All the chief executives were elected by plurality, nobody got the majority vote. Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Benigno Simeon Aquino III, and of late Rodrigo Roa Duterte, none of whom was a majority president.

The framers of the 1987 Constitution failed to include a run-off mechanism, whereby after the votes of all the candidates have been counted and no majority is yet established in favor of anyone, a new vote directly by the people will be made to choose who between the first two candidates will achieve the majority vote.

The system has also reached a peak of inefficiency because the proliferation of political parties has occurred because there are no enabling laws to shortlist its number. The implementing rules and regulations in accrediting a political party or partylist solely depends on the Commission on Elections en banc.

This has led to so many abuses by the Comelec by sheer whim, caprice or sense of impunity, have effectively amended or superseded laws enacted by Congress.

Homobono Adaza, Herman Tiu Laurel and I filed a case for the nullification of the 2010 presidential elections because the Comelec unilaterally collapsed all the safeguards in the Automated Election Systems Law, creating an expressway for digital cheating by Smartmatic PCOS that was being used by the Philippines for the first time.

All members of both houses of Congress, especially the accredited partylist representatives, have all been Comelected, not elected, since 1987 and since 2010, knighted through Smart magic. So all Congresses virtually served as rubber-stamp assemblies depending as to who was distributing the birthday cake.

I do hope Cayetano and Velasco will excuse themselves out of the race to give way to a free vote of the lower house of Congress, as I pray the next Speaker will usher in a more faithful representation of the body-politic in legislating for the common good of our people, and only for our national interest.

Only then will political liberation finally spring from within our midst.

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