Lightweights for Speaker

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Oscar P. Lagman, Jr.


“I am the Speaker, I can always impeach the President,” Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez was supposed to have boasted, according to the President’s daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio. If he did, he must have considered himself in a position of power. However, Mr. Alvarez denied he made such a statement.

Whether he did say it or not, the fact is that the Speakership is a position of power. When Manuel Villar was the Speaker of the House of Representatives, he caused the impeachment of then President Joseph Estrada. Seconds after the opening prayer, and dispensing with the traditional roll-call, Speaker Villar read a resolution signed by more than two-thirds of the members of the House sending the impeachment case to the Senate for trial.

The Speaker is the presiding officer of the House of Representatives. His duties and powers are as follows:

a. prepare the legislative agenda for every regular session, establish systems and procedures to ensure full deliberation and swift approval of measures included therein;

b. conduct regular monthly caucus of all members or groups thereof or as often as may be necessary to discuss priority measures and to facilitate dialogue, consensus and action on issues and concerns affecting the House and the performance of its functions;

c. exercise general supervision over all committees and, in furtherance thereof, conduct regular monthly meetings with the chairpersons and vice-chairpersons of all standing and special committees to set legislative targets, review performance in the attainment of targets, ensure that the priority legislative measures of committees are attuned to the legislative agenda of the House, and resolve such other issues and concerns that affect the operations and performance of the committees.

But a few months after Speaker Alvarez was said to have boasted he could impeach the President, he was removed from the Speakership. A number of congressmen told mass media reporters that the President’s daughter Sara had a hand in the ouster of Mr. Alvarez as Speaker. Ms. Duterte-Carpio denied she had anything to do with Mr. Alvarez’s fall. But President Duterte said in a speech during the 44th Philippine Business Conference and Expo, “Be careful with that woman. This is a female. She operated in Davao as mayor. Look at what happened in Congress, (Alvarez) was ousted.”

The fact that Mr. Alvarez was removed from the Speakership by the mayor of a provincial city, a “female” at that, to use the word of the misogynist President, showed that Mr. Alvarez was a political lightweight vulnerable to the schemes of the wily, the ambitious, and the more powerful.

Mr. Alvarez graduated from Ateneo Law School in 1983. He went into private practice of law in 1984. 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.

He was elected again as 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. When the daughter of the President turned against Speaker Alvarez for whatever reason, whether it was the alleged braggadocio of Mr. Alvarez or the political agenda of the President’s daughter, Mr. Alvarez was toppled from his pedestal.

While the Speakership is a position of power, the person occupying it must be equal to the position. He or she must himself or herself be powerful, lest he or she become expendable.

The Speaker must be a person of gravitas. Before he aspires for the Speakership, he should already be a person of achievements. He should have attained national recognition for his accomplishments; he should be a political giant and leader of a major political party; and he should have the staunch support of the president. Many past Speakers — from the Commonwealth years, through the post-World War II era, to the post-martial law period — were such men.

The very first Speaker, Sergio Osmena, Sr., belonged to the rich and prominent Chinese-Filipino family with vast business interests in Cebu. He served as a courier and journalist in the war staff of Emilio Aguinaldo during the Philippine-American War. He placed second in the 3rd Philippine Bar exams (1903). He was governor of Cebu before he was elected speaker of the first National Assembly in 1907.

The second Speaker was Manuel A. Roxas. He was a descendant of Antonio Roxas y Ureta, the brother of Domingo Roxas y Ureta, the progenitor of the Róxas de Ayala and Zóbel de Ayala clans. He graduated as valedictorian from the University of the Philippines School of Law and subsequently topped the bar exams of 1913. He was governor of Capiz before he was elected speaker.

Jose Yulo placed 3rd in the bar exams of 1913. Because he was underage, he was not allowed to practice Law until two years later. He became known as one of the best corporation lawyers of his time. He helped draft the Philippine corporation law. At first, he declined all offers of government position as his law practice was very lucrative. He eventually relented to President Quezon’s pleas. He was Justice Secretary prior to his election to the National Assembly and election as Speaker.

The Speaker of the 1st Congress of the Republic of the Philippines was Eugenio Pérez who was elected member of the Philippine Legislature for eight consecutive terms. He along with Manuel Roxas and Elpidio Quirino formed the Liberal Party after the Philippines regained its independence in 1946.

Jose Laurel Jr. was the eldest son of Jose P. Laurel, who was president under the 2nd Philippine Republic (Japanese Occupation) and a colossal figure in the Senate in the 1950s. Jose Jr. himself was elected representative for four terms — two during the Commonwealth years and two after World War II — before becoming Speaker. Because his father had declined the nomination of the Nacionalista Party as its presidential candidate in 1953 in favor of Ramon Magsaysay, the Laurels enjoyed in return the full support of President Magsaysay.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives after the restoration of Congress in 1986 was Ramon Mitra. He had been a congressman for two terms and was a senator prior to the proclamation of martial law in 1972. As he was a bitter critic of President Marcos, he was among the first to be arrested and jailed when the country was placed under martial law.

In 1984, he was elected as an Assemblyman to the Regular Batasang Pambansa where he continued to be a thorn in the side of Marcos. After Marcos was chased out of the country in 1986 and national elections were restored in 1987, he ran for the second district of Palawan and won. With the members of the parliament of the streets swept into the House of Representatives, Rep. Mitra, a stalwart in the struggle against the Marcos Dictatorship, was elected Speaker.

Jose de Venecia was an entrepreneur before he entered politics. He pioneered overseas contract work for Filipinos. He went into port operations, mass housing, and oil exploration in the Middle East, leading to the employment of millions of Filipinos. In the 1970s, he started oil and gas exploration in offshore Palawan. He was the brains behind the dollar-remittance program for overseas Filipino workers worldwide.

He ran and won as congressman in 1969. He was acclaimed one of the Ten Outstanding Congressmen. He was elected again in 1987. In 1992, he initiated the unification of three political parties, including President Ramos’ Lakas ng Tao into the dominant party Lakas-NUCD.

Manuel Villar was a recipient of many awards for his achievements in his professional and business career before entering politics in 1992. Forbes magazine 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 candidacy of many members of the House of Representatives. That is why it was a cinch for him to get elected Speaker.

Except for Messrs. Perez and Laurel, all those mentioned were presidential timbers. Messrs. Osmena and Roxas became president. Messrs. Yulo, Mitra, de Venecia, and Villar were their respective party’s candidate for president but lost to Carlos Garcia, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, and Benigno Aquino III, respectively. Mr. Laurel ran as the vice-presidential running mate of Mr. Garcia but lost to Diosdado Macapagal, Jose Yulo’s running mate.

Are the current aspirants for Speaker of the House of Representatives men of gravitas? Are they presidential timbers? Or are they lightweights who can be pushed over the top like Mr. Alvarez, who is again an aspirant for the Speakership?


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.