By Camille A. Aguinaldo and
Arjay L. Balinbin Reporters
SENATORS ON Tuesday responded with caution or suspicion toward former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s assuming the leadership of the House of Representatives, following a power play at the chamber on Monday night.
On the other hand, business leaders sought for comment said they “welcome” or “look forward” to Ms. Arroyo’s new stint, citing her background as an economist.
Ms. Arroyo, the 2nd-district representative of Pampanga, was elected the new Speaker soon after President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s State of the Nation Address, which was delayed by more than an hour in the course of that power play that toppled Pantaleon D. Alvarez of the 1st district of Davao del Norte from the House leadership.
Senator Panfilo M. Lacson in a statement warned the Senate will assert its role in the Duterte administration’s legislative agenda of constitutional amendments.
“Regardless of whether it was Rep. Arroyo or somebody else replacing the ousted Speaker, what happened yesterday is a strong argument against a parliamentary form of government where patronage politics plays a major, if not the only, role in selecting our country’s top leader,” Mr. Lacson said.
He added: “If GMA’s (referring to Ms. Arroyo) ascension to the speakership is a prelude to becoming Prime Minister, they better think twice because the Senate, both majority and minority, have agreed to close ranks to defend and assert our role under the 1987 Constitution in revising or amending the same. That, I can say with certainty and conviction.”
Senator Grace S. Poe-Llamanzares said she also opposes Ms. Arroyo’s election to the Speakership, citing the country’s political situation under her presidency. The senator’s father, the late movie actor and presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr., lost to Ms. Arroyo in the highly controversial 2004 presidential elections, which was hounded by allegations of poll fraud.
“Let us wait if the leaders of Congress railroad this Cha-cha and make it a parliamentary form. We can wake up (to) either the President elected ha(ving) equal powers or (Ms. Arroyo) tak(ing) over as Prime Minister,” Ms. Llamanzares said in an interview with reporters.
“The President was elected because the people want change. I, too, want change, but the change that will be good for all of us, not the change that will pull us to a desperate situation,” she added.
Senator Joseph Victor G. Ejercito for his part told reporters: “It doesn’t look good that the President mentioned that he will be relentless with the war against drugs and corruption. While there are ongoing cases, GMA assumed Speakership.”
Mr. Ejercito’s father, former president and now Manila Mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada, was ousted by a populist movement that catapulted Ms. Arroyo to the presidency. “We can forgive but we will never forget the sins of the past,” Mr. Ejercito also said.
Opposition Senator Francis N. Pangilinan said in a statement: “The maneuverings show the underbelly of politics that turn good people off from serving in government. The battle for House speakership is political infighting among those in the administration. The Liberal Party does not wish to be part of this spectacle.”
Among the business leaders sought for comment, president Danilo C. Lachica of the Semiconductor and Electronics Industries in the Philippines Foundation, Inc. (SEIPI), said, “From our perspective, we don’t see any major concerns in terms of the industry. Ang advantage lang with (The advantage is that) GMA is familiar with the electronics industry because as president she’s been invited to our fora. She’s familiar with that. We did meet once with GMA about the TRAIN (Tax Reform Acceleration and Inclusion) (law), but it was a positive thing….She’s an economist and she’s familiar with the industry.”
Acting president Sergio Ortiz-Luis of the Employers Confederation Of The Philippines (ECOP) said, “Expected na yun, matagal na balita na yun. Ang alam lang namin, ayaw ni GMA noong una.” (That was expected, it’s [old] news. What we knew was that she didn’t want [the Speakership post] at first.)
With Ms. Arroyo at the helm of the House, “I guess some of those crazy proposed laws, mag-iisip isip ([lawmakers] will think first). Marami kasi roon kung ano-anong klaseng law pinagpapasa eh (They’ve been passing all kinds of laws). And then being economist, I think magfofocus na roon sa magagandang bills (they will focus on better bills).”
“We welcome her, definitely,” Mr. Ortiz said when asked.
Executive director Ronald S. Recidoro of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines said of Ms. Arroyo: “She has better appreciation for business for investments, but we would like to see what the legislative agenda will be.
He added: “We had concerns with Speaker Alvarez. He was pushing for a mining franchise bill, and we were really concerned about that. It’s an unnecessary imposition on a highly regulated industry and we were really against that. We hope that under Speaker Arroyo, that bill will be reconsidered.”
“When she was President, she took on a more positive view of the mining industry. We had a lot of promotional roadshows under her term. So, government actively promoted the mining industry, not just within the country but internationally,” Mr. Recidoro also said.
Also sought for comment, chairman Chris Nelson of the British Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines said, “We obviously worked with her before. We wish her all the best, and we look forward to the discussions on the tax reform in the Congress.”
“We welcome that we will work together. We look forward to working with the House and the Senate on the economic plans and the TRAIN,” he added.
President George T. Barcelon of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry said: “I would think the emphasis would be more on the economic issues. She’s an economist. We have known GMA as an economist, and she knows at this point in time how we should do it. Sa tingin ko mas focused ngayon (I think there would be be more focus) on some of these issues.”
He added: “Despite the issues, I think Congress will do its role to ensure that the budget will be spent properly and yung mga (those) project(s) (in the) pipeline will be done on time and cost-effectively.”
Mr. Barcelon also said, “I think we will take our eyes off federalism kasi parang na-sidetrack yung mga main issues. (because the main issues seem to have been sidetracked). So I think with the new speaker, I think she is going to focus on these pressing issues kasama na ang (including) peace and order and benefits sa tao (to the people).”
He said further that “(s)he (Ms. Arroyo) would be a good team with the President. I would think there would be more teamwork.”
For its part, the Communist Party of the Philippines said in a statement Tuesday: “With the rise of Arroyo in Congress, the ruling Duterte regime becomes even more isolated from the Filipino people. Aware of the grave crimes of corruption, plunder, extrajudicial killings, political repression and rampant military and police abuses committed by the Marcos dictatorship, Arroyo and Duterte regimes, the broad masses of the Filipino people are now even more determined to carry out mass struggles and revolutionary resistance.”