THE coup at the House of Representatives that catapulted Pampanga (2nd District) Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to the speakership, on that very day of July 23 last year, when President Rodrigo R. Duterte was scheduled to deliver his State of the Nation Address, was a signal even to the surprised reporters covering the House that Mr. Duterte did not have a sure grip on his allies.
Since then, Ms. Arroyo, the longest serving president after Ferdinand E. Marcos and a leading supporter in Mr. Duterte’s 2016 presidential campaign, has proved to be a complicated ally of Mr. Duterte, according to analysts sought for comment.
The end of Ms. Arroyo’s speakership, which is supposed to be the twilight of her political career, is only a matter of time. Yet even this concluding period of her reign over the House has been marked by sharp differences with Malacañang over Mr. Duterte’s economic agenda, last year’s inflation spell, the budget of late, and even in the matter of charter change where the House pushed its own agenda. This, despite Ms. Arroyo’s assurance that her agenda is the President’s.
“It has become apparent that the President does not have the full support of the members of the House of Representatives under Speaker Arroyo,” University of Santo Tomas Political Science Department chairperson Dennis C. Coronacion said in a phone message on Jan. 12.
Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) sociology professor Louie C. Montemar, in a phone interview also on Jan. 12, said he “can see the President is not comfortable with the way things have been turning out.”
“She is not against the current leadership on pushing for charter change (cha-cha). But as what we can clearly see, the content of the cha-cha proposed by the Gloria leadership is not exactly what the President may want,” he also said.
Mr. Montemar said it is “understandable” that Mr. Duterte has become “silent” on the issue. “He is now cold on the matter of cha-cha.”
The President’s officials, on the other hand, have been at odds, in particular, with a leading ally of Ms. Arroyo, Camarines Sur (1st District) Rep. Rolando G. Andaya, Jr., over the still unresolved national budget.
Mr. Andaya, who was replaced this week as majority leader by Capiz (2nd District) Rep. Fredenil H. Castro, dismissed speculations of a power play in Ms. Arroyo’s behalf behind his differences with the Palace and its economic team.
“Ang alam ko pareho kaming ga-graduate (I know that [the Speaker] and I are both graduating) after the election, so I don’t know what positioning they’re talking about,” Mr. Andaya, in an interview, said, referring to the fact that he and Ms. Arroyo are on their last terms.
“It’s a healthy relationship. It’s what you call checks and balances,” he maintained, regarding his friction with Malacañang officials, particularly Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno.
“Ang checks and balances kasi umaandar kung sumasagot ka nang maayos, pero kung ikaw na nagsasalita ayaw mong sumagot at tinatago mo ‘yung katotohanan, magkakaproblema tayo.” (Checks and balances work if you’re transparent, but if you don’t want to talk and you’re hiding the truth, we’ll have a problem).
Also sought for comment, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said, “Kaniya-kaniyang diskarte iyon sa loob nila eh. If you talk with the Speaker, sasabihin niya wala siyang alam doon. Baka si Andaya lang at tsaka si (Minority Leader Danilo E.) Suarez.” (It’s to each his strategy. If you talk to the Speaker, she’ll say she knows nothing about these things. Maybe only Andaya and Suarez).
Mr. Castro, also sought for comment, said in a phone interview, “I do not believe that (there’s) political positioning because in the first place, it’s not time for political positioning. Second, the Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is stepping down soon. Therefore, I think it would be illogical to view the situation as political positioning.”
He added in a phone message that differences between Mr. Andaya and the Palace are “a normal exercise in a democratic system. It is incontrovertible evidence that checks and balances between different branches of our government are not theoretical but rather real, alive, and functioning. This, if I may say, is healthy.”
Mr. Coronacion said, “I agree with Secretary Diokno that this is happening because it’s an election year. Our lawmakers are in need of access to government’s funds and Malacañang stands in their way.”
For his part, Mr. Montemar said: “There is really no reason why the budget approval should be delayed.”
“The delay comes with accusations from members of Congress, having control of the process, against the (Budget) Secretary. So, how else can we make sense of these things except that there are economic interests [that have been made obvious]?” he added.
“We know that Gloria actually has her way of playing around with the budget. So, how else can we interpret things except that the former president is trying take back her own power… and in the process, bring down a political opponent?” Mr. Montemar continued, referring to Mr. Diokno.
“We will have to weigh all these (issues) in the context of: number one, the elections; number two, Gloria wanting to maintain her power.”
“The matter on the budget becomes even more pronounced right now. That’s a battle over funds, a battle over strategic positioning in government. It’s not just a battle on a budget for one year; it’s a political battle between opposing forces in government. It is a battle simply for power.”
“Gloria, as much as she can, being in power right now, will have to choose the process…to gain support and see to what extent she can set up her own agenda.”
Mr. Montemar also said that aside from the Department of Finance (DoF) as a possible post for Ms. Arroyo, “(w)e have been hearing that the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) will be a choice for her, and that will give her more external influence.”
Mr. Coronacion, for his part, said: “Arroyo’s only chance for a national post after she steps down is if she would be appointed in the Cabinet.”
But Mr. Panelo, citing a dinner appointment with Ms. Arroyo last week, said the former president is no longer interested in politics.
“Sabi niya, she’s not interested at all. Gusto niya na mag-retire. Hindi siya interesado,” he said. (She said she’s not interested at all. She wants to retire. She’s not interested).
Mr. Panelo also said Ms. Arroyo “would not want to go under a Commission on Appointments where members there ay mga kaaway niya (are her enemies).”
Not a few of those members will be seeking a fresh mandate in the midterm elections. — Arjay L. Balinbin with Charmaine A. Tadalan