By Charmaine A. Tadalan and
Vince Angelo C. Ferreras, Reporters

MARINDUQUE Rep. Lord Allan Jay Q. Velasco is ruling party Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan’s (PDP-Laban) speakership bet, Senator Emmanuel D. Pacquiao announced on Wednesday.

The PDP-Laban said almost 60 of its 84 members in the House of Representatives have signed the manifesto of support for Mr. Velasco, adding that they are considering imposing sanctions on members who will not cooperate with the party’s decision.

“The majority of PDP-Laban representatives have signed a manifesto of support for our candidate,” Mr. Pacquiao, who is currently in Los Angeles, told reporters in a video conference Wednesday.

“By the power vested in me by the president of the party, I am therefore announcing the endorsement in support of the PDP-Laban to Cong. Lord Allan Velasco as Speaker of the House of Representatives in the full term of the 18th congress.”

The Senator explained he was authorized by the PDP-Laban, in his capacity as its member, to announce its endorsed leader of the House.

Sa tingin ko maganda na bata ‘yung speaker natin at tsaka maaasahan sa kapakanan ng (I think it is good that we elect a young speaker whom we can count on for) welfare of the Filipino people,” Mr. Pacquiao said, but declined to disclose any more details on the factors considered by the party.

Mr. Velasco, for his part, welcomed the endorsement, saying in a statement that while he will represent President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s party, he will remain a “consultative and a listening leader, who welcomes his fellow lawmakers, regardless of their political colors and affiliation.”

The speakership bid of Mr. Velasco had long been floated during the 17th Congress. He is known to have close relations with the Duterte family, evident in his presence during the nationwide campaign of Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP), a regional party led by the President’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.

Ms. Carpio was tagged in the leadership shake-up in the House during Mr. Duterte’s third State of the Nation Address last year.

PDP-Laban Executive Vice President Aurelio D. Gonzales, Jr., who represents the 3rd district of Pampanga, said Mr. Velasco has the support of some 200 members of the House.

“More or less 200 members ang pipirma at susuporta kay (will sign and support) Cong. Lord Velasco,” Mr. Gonzales said, citing, aside from their party, the Nationalist People’s Coalition, and some from the National Unity Party, Nacionalista Party, Liberal Party and other “independent” lawmakers.

The ‘Multi-party Manifesto of Support’ for Mr. Velasco was also signed by 1-Pacman Party-list Rep. Michael L. Romero, president of the 54-member party-list coalition.

However, a party-list coalition member, Anakalusugan Rep. Michael “Mike” T. Defensor, said Mr. Romero’s signature in the petition as “unfair” and does not represent the bloc.

“But to speak for the party-list bloc is unfair to us, hindi napag-usapan ‘yan (we did not discuss that), that was illegal and no basis for that,” said Mr. Defensor in a chance interview with reporters.

PDP-Laban Spokesperson Ronwald Munsayac, meanwhile, said party-members who will not support Mr. Velasco will face sanctions.

“Just like what party President Senator (Aquilino) Koko Pimentel (III) said that he will be strict, the party will be very strict sa (in) party discipline,” he said in the same briefing.

“So definitely meron pong (there will be) sanctions,” he said, noting the party will still discuss what it will impose.

Another lawmaker gunning for the speakership, Leyte 1st district Rep. Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez, and his allies have not given up on his bid.

“Well, that (choosing Velasco)is a matter for the PDP, it is an internal matter, and we respect whatever the pronouncement,” said Mr. Romualdez in a press conference yesterday in Quezon City.

“We are confident that we are a strong contender and that we will not stop working even on July 22,” Mr. Romualdez said.

“We are serious and we believe we are a strong contender. But this matter will still be decided on July 22nd. And I will be the last one to be presumptuous to say that I have more than the numbers to become the speaker,” he added.

Albay 2nd district Rep. Joey S. Salceda, a PDP-Laban member, expressed support for Mr. Romualdez, saying he would be a better choice in terms of pursuing structural reforms in government.

Kaya ang sabi ko (That’s why I said), the vote of the President will depend on who can deliver the structural reforms,” he told reporters. “I think Martin has it, to deliver a robust structural agenda.”

Mr. Salceda also said that 178 lawmakers committed to vote for the Leyte congressman.

“We have like a pledge of commitment, something like that… as of yesterday,” he said.

With 304 representatives in the 18th Congress, the candidate for Speaker must secure at least a 50%-plus-one vote.

On the other hand, the progressive Makabayan bloc will nominate returning Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos T. Zarate in the race for speakership.

Panahon na meron tayong Speaker na titindig para sa karapatan at kagalingan ng mga manggagawang Pilipino, ng mga magsasakang Pilipino, ng Lumad, kababaihan, kabataan, at iba pa (It’s time that we have a Speaker who will stand up for the rights and betterment of Filipino workers, farmers, indigenous people, women, youth, and others),” said ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio L. Tinio in a press conference.

Alam namin na anim lang ang (We know that we are only six here in the) Makabayan bloc… so this is an assertion not only of our independence as a bloc, this is not only an assertion as an effective fiscalizer dito sa (here in the) House, but an assertion of the voice of our people,” Mr. Zarate said.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo, for his part, said the President maintained his initial stance to leave it to the chamber to decide the next speaker, but expressed confidence that the new House leader will carry on his legislative agenda.

“President Duterte is confident that the next Lower House leader would shepherd his legislative agenda for the nation’s best interest and the people’s general welfare,” Mr. Panelo said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The Chief Executive would rather focus on the business of governance rather than play politics and ruffle the feelings of those outside of his preferred choice. The latter is simply not the character and style of the Chief Executive.”