“I am the Speaker, I can always impeach the President,” Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez was supposed to have boasted. He must have concluded that if Speaker Manuel Villar could impeach President Joseph Estrada, he should also be able to impeach President Rodrigo Duterte.
While Speaker Villar was able to send a resolution signed by more than two-thirds of the members of the House that elevated the impeachment case to the Senate for trial, which eventually led to President Estrada’s untimely exit from Malacañang, Speaker Alvarez was removed from the Speakership shortly after he made his boast.
The Speakership is a position of power. The person who holds the position should be powerful by his own right, otherwise he becomes expendable. That is what Mr. Alvarez was — a political lightweight when he assumed the position of Speaker and therefore a pushover.
After he graduated from Ateneo’s Law School in 1983, he went into private practice of Law. In 1992, he became an action officer at the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA). He was promoted to chief operating officer of MIAA in 1995, a position he held until September 1997.
He was elected representative of the 1st District of Davao del Norte in 1998. President Gloria Arroyo appointed him acting Secretary of Transportation and Communications in 2001. His stint was undistinguished. He was again elected representative in 2016. Newly elected President Duterte made known to his political allies in the 17th Congress that his preference for Speaker was his province mate and long-time friend.
His ascension to the Speakership was not by his own power but by virtue of the endorsement of his friend, President Duterte. So, when he bragged that he could impeach the president, the same person who got him to be speaker, he was unceremoniously pushed off the Speaker’s dais.
Speaker Villar remained unshakable in his position even if he had President Estrada impeached. He was a person of gravitas before he became Speaker. He was a recipient of many awards for his achievements in his professional and business career before entering politics in 1992. Forbes magazine had ranked him among the Top 5 richest men of the Philippines long before he became a member of Congress.
He took over the then moribund Nacionalista Party. He is known to have bankrolled the candidacies of many members of the House of Representatives. That is why it was a cinch for him to get elected speaker. President Estrada had no hand in his ascension to the Speakership.
Marinduque’s lone representative Lord Allan Velasco is supposed to take over the Speakership from Taguig representative Alan Peter Cayetano on Oct. 14. That is in accordance with a time-sharing agreement by which Mr. Cayetano was supposed to lead the House of Representatives for the first 15 months of the 18th Congress and Mr. Velasco to take over the remaining 21 months. The agreement was brokered by President Duterte and forged in his presence.
Speaker Cayetano offered to resign on Sept. 30, the day after President Duterte told him to honor the time-sharing agreement he entered into with Mr. Velasco. “Congressman Velasco told the President that he is ready. Then I think the best time to prove it is now. If colleagues want you today, go ahead. I am offering my resignation, my dear colleagues. My fate and the fate of the 2021 budget and the leadership of the house is in your hands.”
If the agreement was to be honored, Speaker Cayetano should have resigned outright on Oct. 14 to give way to Mr. Velasco. But he did not resign. He only offered to resign and left it to his colleagues in Congress to accept his offer or reject it. Whether Mr. Velasco is ready or not was beside the point. His agreeing to the time-sharing deal was not contingent on Mr. Velasco’s readiness to lead the Lower House.
Clever of Speaker Cayetano to leave it up to the members of Congress to decide who their leader should be. They were not party to the time-sharing deal and therefore not bound by it. That the deal was brokered by President Duterte is of no import to them. The legislative branch of government is co-equal with the executive branch and therefore independent of the president. So, Mr. Cayetano remains Speaker because the great majority of the members of the Lower House, 184 out of 243, or 75%, voted to reject his offer to resign. That means the overwhelming majority of the congressmen believe that Mr. Velasco is not ready to lead them.
When it was first bruited about that Lord Allan Velasco was one of the contenders for Speaker of the House, a popular broadcast political commentator asked, “Who he?” The public asked who indeed is this Velasco to be vying for the Speakership.
Lord Allan Velasco was first elected representative of the lone district of Marinduque in 2010. He ran for re-election in 2013 but was defeated by Regina Ongsiako Reyes, daughter of the governor of the province, Carmencita Reyes. However, he was proclaimed the representative of Marinduque on Feb. 1, 2016 after the House Electoral Tribunal removed Regina Reyes from her seat in the House of Representatives for being an American citizen. If it were not for that, Regina Reyes would be in Congress instead of Lord Allan Velasco.
Why then is Lord Allan Velasco, who is in the House of Representatives only by virtue of a technicality, supposed to be Speaker for the remaining months of the 18th Congress, people ask?
Well, as Mr. Velasco often says in interviews with broadcast journalists, he is President Duterte’s choice for Speaker. But as the President also wanted to accommodate the aspirations of Mr. Cayetano, his staunch political ally, the President proposed the time-sharing agreement.
Many wonder why Mr. Velasco is close to the President. He is not from Davao nor did he have any connection with the city unlike Bong Go and Bato de la Rosa, whom the President plucked out of obscurity and thrust to national prominence such that both are now senators of the realm. Mr. Velasco does not come from a political dynasty allied with the President as the Marcos and Villar families are.
Lord Allan’s father, Presbitero Velasco, is Governor of Marinduque. He went into politics only in 2019 when he ran for governor of Marinduque. He cannot be considered a long-time political ally of the President. He spent many years in the judicial branch of government. In fact, he was Associate Justice of the Supreme Court from 2006 until 2018, when reached the age of retirement.
One Supreme Court ruling penned by him was the dismissal of Senator Leila de Lima’s petition to nullify her arrest on drug charges. Associate Justice Antonio Carpio found Justice Velasco’s arguments inconsistent with those he (Velasco) used in many other cases. I discerned from Justice Carpio’s dissenting opinion that Justice Velasco performed legal contortions to keep De Lima, a vocal critic of President Duterte’s war on drugs, in jail. That must have pleased the President who had said, “She is going to rot in jail.”
Could that be why the President forged that time-sharing agreement by which Mr. Velasco would be Speaker, to return a favor to retired Justice Presbitero Velasco?
According to Congressman Velasco himself, the President told him, “We were duped by Cayetano.” That statement of the President implies submission to the machinations of Speaker Cayetano. That is uncharacteristic of the President, accepting the thwarting of his intentions. Whatever the President wants, people oblige, whether they be subordinates or from the supposed co-equal and independent legislative and judicial branches of government. Take the case of the Supreme Court keeping Senator De Lima in detention and ousting Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno, and the House of Representatives denying ABS-CBN a new franchise.
Could it be that President Duterte, like the overwhelming majority of congressmen, does not believe Lord Allan Velasco is ready or even qualified to be Speaker, which is why he submits to the will of the House of Representatives? He probably feels he has returned the favor to Lord Allan’s father by brokering the time-sharing deal.
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a retired corporate executive, business consultant, and management professor. He has been a politicized citizen since his college days in the late 1950s.