In my column of June 11, I asked: Are the current aspirants for Speaker of the House of Representatives of the 18th Congress men of gravitas? Are they presidential timber like a number of previous speakers? Or are they lightweights who can be pushed over the top like Pantaleon Alvarez, who is again an aspirant for the Speakership?
At that time there were five aspirants for Speaker: Messrs. Alvarez, Alan Peter Cayetano, Lord Allan Velasco, Martin Romualdez, and Aurelio Gonzales. It looks like Mr. Gonzales has dropped out of the race since then, but last week Davao City Representative Isidro Ungab was endorsed for the position by Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte’s party Hugpong ng Pagbabago.
The Speakership is a position of power. The Speaker is the presiding officer of the House of Representatives. His duties and powers are as follows:
• Prepare the legislative agenda for every regular session, establish systems and procedures to ensure full deliberation and swift approval of measures included therein;
• Conduct regular monthly caucuses 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;
• 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.
To be able to perform those duties, the speaker must be a person of gravitas. He must be a man of accomplishments of national significance. He must have displayed traits of leadership. He must have had a long and substantive stint in the House of Representatives. He must have a sizable number of congressmen as loyal supporters. He must have the full backing of the president.
Who among the aspirants are such men?
Mr. Alvarez has been speaker before. But all he had working for him to become speaker of the 17th Congress was the endorsement of the then newly elected president, Rodrigo Duterte, his provincemate and long-time friend. Prior to being elected to the House of Representatives, he was in the private practice of law.
He became an action officer at the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) in 1987 and rose to chief operating officer of MIAA in March 1995. He was elected representative of the 1st District of Davao del Norte in 1998. In January 2001, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo appointed him acting Secretary of Transportation and Communications, where he served until July 2002.
Many political pundits have said that other than having close ties with the President, Mr. Alvarez was poorly suited for the position of Speaker. That is why when President Duterte’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, turned against him, Mr. Alvarez was ousted from the Speakership.
Alan Peter Cayetano, son of Senator Renato Cayetano, is a two-term senator and three-term congressman. He was first elected representative of the lone district of Taguig-Pateros in 1998 and re-elected in 2001 and 2004. He was at one time or another assistant majority leader, deputy majority leader, and senior deputy minority leader in the House of Representatives.
He gained national prominence when he led the move to impeach President Arroyo for attempting to tamper with the results of the 2004 presidential election. He engaged the House stalwart Luis Villafuerte, a rabid supporter of President Arroyo, in a debate wherein each put on an impressive display of their knowledge of the law as they alternately cited the law in support of each other’s proposition.
Barred from running for a fourth term, Cayetano ran for the Senate in 2007 and won. He chaired the high profile Blue Ribbon Committee during his first term in the Senate, enhancing his national prominence by heading the investigation of the scandalous NBN-ZTE deal and the Fertilizer Scam. He was re-elected to the Senate in 2010. He was the Senate Minority Floor Leader in 2010. He again captured the attention of the nation in 2015 when he initiated the Senate investigation of the charge of graft and corruption against then Vice-President Jejomar Binay and his son Makati Mayor Junjun Binay.
It can be said that Mr. Cayetano has the gravitas. He must have felt he had the stature to be vice-president. Thus, barred from running for a third term in the Senate, he made a bid for the vice-presidency in 2016, running in the ticket of presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte. He lost, his first defeat in his political career.
That was the start of his fall. On his prodding, President Duterte named him Secretary of Foreign Affairs in 2017, a position he was not qualified for. His political stock crashed as he allowed himself to be no more than the voice of President Duterte’s pro-China foreign policy, a policy not accepted by the citizenry.
Not only has Mr. Cayetano’s gravitas diminished, if not disintegrated, he does not have many allies among his colleagues in the House, having alienated many of them during his stints in both houses of Congress. He does not enjoy the open support of his own party, the Nacionalista Party, and, from all indications, neither does he enjoy the support of President Duterte. How many times had Mr. Duterte expressed during his campaign for the presidency and during his state visit to China a preference for Bongbong Marcos as his vice-president over his own vice-presidential running mate Alan Peter Cayetano?
According to Congressman Cayetano, Mr. Duterte had proposed a term-sharing arrangement by which Mr. Cayetano holds the position of Speaker for a year and a half, then PDP-Laban’s nominee Lord Allan Velasco takes over for the remainder of the 18th Congress. However, Mr. Velasco was supposed to have rejected the President’s proposal.
Nobody dares to go against the wishes of President Duterte, not the lightweight member of the House of Representatives Velasco. If the term-sharing deal is off, that means that is the wish of the President, not Congressman Velasco.
Speaking of Mr. Velasco, he was first elected representative of the lone district of Marinduque in 2010. He ran for re-election in 2013 but was defeated by Regina Ongsiako Reyes, daughter of the governor of the province, Carmencita Reyes. However, he was proclaimed the representative of Marinduque on Feb. 1, 2016 after the House Electoral Tribunal removed Ms. Reyes from her seat for being an American citizen.
The fact is, the people of Marinduque preferred the scion of the province’s political dynasty over the son of retired Supreme Court justice Presbitero Velasco. If it were not for a technicality, Lord Allan would not even be in Congress.
Martin Romualdez was representative of the 1st District of Leyte from 2007 to 2016. Barred from seeking re-election for a fourth term, he ran for the Senate in 2016 but lost.
He is the national president of the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats, the political party founded in 1992 by then-Defense Secretary Fidel Ramos and which later merged with Kampi of then Vice-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. He is the son of the late Benjamin Romualdez, better known as the younger brother of Imelda Marcos. All he has going for him is the connection to the Marcos family.
Isidro Ungab was elected representative of the 3rd district of Davao City in 2007, re-elected in 2010 and in 2013. Before that he had worked as an economic analyst, account officer, development bank manager, and as a consultant to various financial institutions. He has the distinction of the only four-term congressman. I can’t find the explanation on how that happened. He has the backing of presidential daughter Sara. How much weight that carries will be known only on July 22.
Party-list Pwersa ng Bayang Atleta Representative Jericho Nograles says the race for Speaker has come down to Mr. Velasco and Mr. Romualdez. He should know as he is a relative of President Duterte. Albay Representative Joey Salceda and Anak Kalusugan Representative Mike Defensor, like Mr. Romualdez both political lieutenants of Ms. Macapagal Arroyo when she was president, say Representative Romualdez has the Speakership in the bag as 304 members of the House have pledged their votes for him. It takes at least 153 votes to get elected. They must be the votes of members of the House allied with Mrs. Marcos and Ms. Arroyo. Again, how much influence the two ladies, now both out of power and outside Congress, have will also be known on July 22.
Well, whoever gets elected Speaker among the aspirants he would not be his own man but the fair-haired boy of a powerful person. He is a lightweight, a pushover, in the eyes of the general membership of the House of Representatives vulnerable to the schemes of trapos in the House.
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.