Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, acerbic and arrogant

To Take A Stand
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr.

Posted on August 01, 2017

Former history curator Manuel L. Quezon III, better known as Manolo Quezon, once wrote in his Philippine Daily Inquirer column that “Today, the point person in the House is Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas. This is because Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, even in his previous stint as a representative, was never a major mover or shaker and, aside from his closeness to President Duterte, lacks a track record of leadership or camaraderie, or a party franchise and independent means to quickly assert personal dominance in the House (in contrast to his predecessors and successors who were active party men before they assumed the speakership, like Manuel Villar, Jr. who compensated for his lack of political ties with an immense personal fortune.”

An indication of who has the power in the House is the stage at which the proposed shift to federalism is. Despite its being the cornerstones of President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign and government, and the Speaker’s principal advocacy, the Speaker has been unable to crack the whip to get the supermajority in the Lower House to fast track the change to a federal form of government. The proposal got lost in the complex and protracted process of legislation when the Majority Leader opened it to broad hearings without setting a timeline.

To appear to be the nation’s fourth most powerful official, Mr. Alvarez has been recklessly making bold statements like suggesting, nay calling, for the resignation of Cabinet members who disagree with the President’s policies and programs like DSWD Sec. Judy Taguiwalo and officials who have failed in their job like PNP Chief Ronald dela Rosa. His calls were flatly ignored.

Recently, he threatened to have Congress “dissolve” the Court of Appeals, forgetting he is the head, titular at that, of only the House of Congress. That threat drew a strong reaction from a much junior government official (chief of staff of the Commissioner of the Bureau of Customs) calling Speaker Alvarez “imbecile.”

In a House inquiry involving the Bureau of Customs, Cong. Fariñas took the opportunity to scold the disrespectful Customs official. “You believe, as a government official, that you can call the fourth highest official in the land an imbecile?” Mr. Fariñas asked the Custom functionary. Cong. Fariñas should ask himself if the fourth highest official in the land can refer to justices of the Court of Appeals in depreciatory terms. Mr. Alvarez has called them “gago (idiot),” “bugok (rotten),” and “buwang (crazy).”

Acerbic and arrogant the former low-profile and mild-mannered Mr. Alvarez has become since he assumed the fourth highest position in the land. In the March 13 press conference called by President Duterte to announce the policies adopted by the ruling party PDP-Laban, Speaker Alvarez went beyond expressing the full support of the House of Representatives for the policies enunciated by the President. The acerbic Speaker took the opportunity to shame once again Senator De Lima.

He declared De Lima public enemy No. 1 and No. 1 drug lord. Ahead of her trial and conviction by a court of law, Alvarez said: “She committed a crime, which involves illegal drugs. It is clear that is a crime and it is clear that she is a criminal,” his voice raised to emphasize the last clause. He referred to her as a former senator as if she had been expelled from the Senate.

It is not the first time that Alvarez has spoken of De Lima in the most scornful way. He has referred to her as “serial liar.” On her saying she is innocent, he said he was impressed at the tendency of De Lima to lie as she faced allegations of receiving drug money from drug lord Rolando Espinosa, Sr.

He has also called her stupid for saying that Duterte can be impeached for admitting he had personally killed criminals. He even implicitly accused her of sexual harassment. “She uses her subordinates. If a man did that to his subordinates, that would definitely be sexual harassment,” said he. And to think De Lima has not even tangled directly with Alvarez for him to wreak vengeance on her.

When Vice-President Robredo tendered her formal resignation as chairperson of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, Alvarez asserted she did not quit but was fired because Duterte had lost trust in her. When a Korean businessman was murdered by rogue police officers in Camp Crame, Alvarez said PNP Director-General Dela Rosa should resign. “How can we believe the stern statements Dela Rosa had been making against criminals when he was the first to run in the slightest possibility of danger?” he remarked.

Reacting to a pastoral letter of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines that described the President’s war on drugs as a “reign of terror,” he called the bishops “a bunch of shameless hypocrites.”

Not only did Mr. Alvarez call justices of the Court of Appeals pejorative names, he threatened to have them disbarred. What arrogance!

In 2007, the Supreme Court disbarred lawyer Noli Eala, who was then Commissioner of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), because of his “grossly immoral conduct” that stemmed from an affair with a married woman prior to the judicial declaration of her marriage as null and void. A week later, the PBA board sacked Eala as PBA commissioner.

The high tribunal dismissed with finality Eala’s motion for reconsideration, ruling that, in engaging in extramarital affair Eala ridiculed marriage as a mere “scrap of paper,” and violated his lawyer’s oath to uphold the Constitution and the laws.

Alvarez refused to say how long he and Jennifer Maliwanag Vicencio have been in a relationship. He says that he and his wife Emelita Apostol have not been together “for a long time.” But last week Mrs. Emelita Alvarez told an ABS-CBN reporter that, “Actually, I was abandoned right after the State of the Nation Address last year when he became the Speaker.” She also said she has known of the Speaker’s other relationship even before he abandoned her.

Whatever, Mr. Alvarez marriage has not been declared judicially null and void, ridiculing therefore his marriage as a mere “scrap of paper,” and violating his lawyer’s oath to uphold the Constitution and the laws. Will the Supreme Court, which is generally perceived as being compliant to the wishes of Duterte, who is Alvarez’s bosom buddy, disbar Alvarez as attorney as they did Eala?

In the event he is disbarred (a remote possibility though given his closeness to the President and the docility of the Supreme Court to His Excellency), will House Majority Floor Leader Fariñas and Justice Committee Chair Umali, both intense prosecutors in the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona for not being truthful about his assets, move for Alvarez’s expulsion from the House, or at least ouster as Speaker? Or will they all be shameless hypocrites?

Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a member of Manindigan! a cause-oriented group of businessmen, professionals, and academics.