Cayetano ousted as Speaker in rogue session

Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Q. Velasco — PHILSTAR

ALAN PETER S. CAYETANO was ousted as Speaker on Monday after a number of congressmen declared his post vacant at a session held outside the House of Representatives.

The lawmakers elected Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Q. Velasco as Speaker in keeping with a term-sharing deal brokered by President Rodrigo R. Duterte that both lawmakers agreed to last year.

Mr. Velasco in a statement said 186 congressmen voted to install him as Speaker, either through Zoom Meetings app or physically at a sports plaza just five kilometers from the House of Representatives complex in Quezon City.

The congressmen moved the meeting from the House building after Mr. Cayetano allegedly refused to open the plenary hall. Under House rules, lawmakers can only elect a new Speaker during a session.

The lawmakers had a version of the House mace — the symbol of authority of the chamber — that should be present during sessions.

Majority of the lawmakers came from the Nationalist People’s Coalition and Partylist Coalition Foundation, Inc. Several members of the ruling PDP-Laban also joined the ouster.

“It has been a difficult journey to get to where we are, one fraught with many frustrations and complications, but then we are all here, and this is a testament to our indomitable spirit and our collective commitment to honoring our word,” Mr. Velasco told his colleagues.

“This is not the triumph of one, this is the triumph of everyone who believes that a promise is a promise,” he added.

He thanked Mr. Duterte and his children — Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio and Davao City Rep. Paolo Duterte — as well as Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, the president’s former aide.

His election came a day before Congress convenes for a special session to discuss the 2021 national budget.

Jose Maria Clemente S. Salceda, who earlier supported Mr. Cayetano, joined the voting in Quezon City. He told reporters in a Viber group message 111 congressmen attended the physician session.

“Even if I resign, the deputy speakers shall be the one to assume the speakership, not him,” Mr. Cayetano, who has rejected the term-sharing, told a news briefing. “That’s bastardization of the Constitution.”

After Mr. Cayetano’s ouster, his camp released a manifesto supposedly signed by 200 lawmakers who said the term-sharing deal had become moot after a majority of them rejected his resignation.

He cast doubt on the validity of Mr. Velasco’s speakership, saying his rival’s camp might have fabricated the numbers. “Or maybe they have flying voters.”

The House has 299 members.

Congressmen on Tuesday approved next year’s P4.5-trillion national budget on second reading after Mr. Cayetano moved to terminate debates and sessions until Nov. 16.

This was supposed to prevent Mr. Velasco from trying to take control of the speakership on Oct. 14.

Under the term-sharing pact, Mr. Cayetano would be Speaker in the first 15 months of the 18th Congress, and Mr. Velasco would serve for the remaining 21 months.

Congressmen voted through loud ayes and nays on Zoom Cloud Meetings, but other lawmakers claimed their microphones had been muted during the session.

Instead of continuing plenary debates on the budget, Mr. Cayetano created a small committee that will consolidate proposed amendments during the break. Congress was supposed to suspend sessions on Oct. 17 and resume on Nov. 16 under its legislative calendar.

Some party-list congressmen earlier said legislative proceedings had been hijacked, noting that few lawmakers were allowed to go to the House plenary hall in Quezon City. Majority of House members attend sessions via Zoom amid a coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Duterte is sick of the politics at the House, his spokesman Harry L. Roque told an online news briefing on Monday.

“I don’t want to meddle in House politics,” he quoted the President as saying in Filipino. “I’m fed up. “What’s important is they pass the proposed 2021 budget,” Mr. Duterte reportedly said.

“What the President said is clear,” Mr. Roque said. “He is fed up. Let’s set aside the politics and prioritize the budget.”

Meanwhile, several members of the House Minority criticized the power struggle, saying vulnerable sectors would suffer because of the expected delay in approving next year’s appropriations.

“This is not a normal occurrence,” House Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante, Jr. said at an online news briefing called by his bloc. “Forget politics.”

The Management Association of the Philippines in a statement urged congressmen to set aside “personal political interests” to prevent a reenacted budget next year, which could weaken the government’s anti-coronavirus response.

“We call on our politicians to think of the country first and subordinate their personal political interests to the public good,” it said in a statement. “Your duty as public servants demands no less and anything short is an extreme disservice to our people.” — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Gillian M. Cortez

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