SHIFTING OF POWER A security personnel of the House of Representatives holds the mace during the ratification of the election of Rep. Lord Allan Velasco as speaker. PHOTO BY JOHN ORVEN VERDOTE SHIFTING OF POWER A security personnel of the House of Representatives holds the mace during the ratification of the election of Rep. Lord Allan Velasco as speaker. PHOTO BY JOHN ORVEN VERDOTE

Velasco takes top House post Featured

TWO numbers encapsulate how Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano has debased the House of Representatives in order to keep his post and why about 184 congressmen refused to accept his resignation when he offered to do so in September in a sickening charade. These are 24 and P1.6 billion.

Without an ounce of shame, Cayetano had increased the number of deputy speakers to 24. Yes, 24 deputy speakers. A deputy speaker title is not just an honorific. And they’re not just taking on additional work for love of country. A deputy speakership generates, by one estimate, an additional P5 million monthly in the form of allowances, honoraria, and “research” and “representation” expenses.

We just don’t know how much really and the integrity of this pillar of democracy is such that how it uses its P14-billion budget (for 2020) is secret, and even the Commission on Audit does not disclose its audit of Congress. Not a single congressman I contacted bothered to reply to me when I texted them to find out how much in funds the deputy speakers get from occupying that post. So much for transparency and integrity.

Cayetano appointed deputy speakers and 50 more vice chairmen of for each committee — the Appropriations committee, for instance, now has 37 vice chairmen from 21 during Pantaleon Alvarez’s speakership. Giving congressmen millions of pesos in additional funds has been Cayetano’s signature way of ensuring the loyalty of the House to him.

This brings us to that second number: P1.6 billion, which is the cost to us taxpayers of Cayetano’s way of buying congressmen’s loyalty in his first year in office. It could cost us P2 billion in the budget for next year if he gets his way.

It was Cavite Eighth District Rep. Abraham Tolentino who inadvertently disclosed this huge cost to us in 2019 when the House budget was presented when he said: “We did not expect after the State of the Nation Address that there will be additional deputy speakers. We did not expect that there will be additional vice chairs on appropriations and ways and means. We did not expect either that there will be newly created committees.”

To spread around his largesse as much as he could, Cayetano ordered eight more standing committees to be set up and four special committees on such questionable issues as “strategic intelligence” and “creative industry and performing arts.”

Communist cadres
The fact that even the communist cadres in Congress (aka Makabayan bloc) haven’t criticized Cayetano makes me very suspicious that he has struck some kind of agreement with them, indirectly helping the enemies of the state.

The impact of Cayetano’s virtual pay-offs was demonstrated when even a feisty party-list congressman declared that he and most of his colleagues loved the Speaker and wanted him to stay during that drama-skit they staged on September 30, where Cayetano offered to resign. The arrival of his rival Lord Allan Velasco the previous day had reminded Cayetano that under their term-sharing deal brokered by President Rodrigo Duterte, he should step down on October 14.

That congressman, representing a rather dubious never-before-heard-of party-list, is a member of 10 committees, chairman of one and vice chairman in seven, each of which gives him funds for research, representation and honoraria.

Bulacan Rep. Antonio Sy-Alvarado, who seconded the motion to call for a confidence vote for Cayetano, is in 11 committees, is chairman of the powerful Good Government and Public Accountability, (the so-called blue ribbon committee) and vice chairman of four committees.

Known to be Cayetano’s close ally, he would most likely be kicked out of those posts when Velasco becomes speaker.

Administration
During the term of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte under the Yellow administration, there were only six deputies, purportedly to represent the three major island groups and the National Capital Region, plus two VIPs of that regime, for example the late Henedina Abad, the wife of President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s brain- and money-trust Florencio Abad

Alvarez, the first speaker in the Duterte administration, appointed 12 deputies, purportedly to prepare for the creation of a federal republic, which would have 12 states, with two more of his allies put there. Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo chose not to rock the boat.

As soon as Cayetano assumed the speakership, though, he increased the number of speakers to 19 and a few months later to 24, without bothering to give any justification for such a preposterous set-up. Apparently, from the start of his speakership, his plan was to get the Congress’ gang-leaders under his vassalage that they would even defy Duterte, who brokered the term-sharing deal.

But Cayetano has grossly missed the tectonic shift in Philippine politics. As demonstrated by Pulse Asia’s report that 91 percent of Filipinos trust Duterte, this President has become just like the Caesars in the Roman Republic of yore: he doesn’t really need to bribe Congress for it to back him.

Cayetano thought that Duterte owed him as he was able to deliver the head of ABS-CBN Corp. to him on a silver platter a few months ago, with his close allies like Michael Defensor and deputy speaker Rodante Marcoleta expertly shredding to ribbons the broadcast firm’s claims to integrity and corporate citizenship.

Hubris
Cayetano’s hubris was such that he was even willing to have a reenacted national budget for next year — that is, the budget for this year will be that for 2021 — which will be the result of his move for the House to adjourn last week and convene only on November 16. He obviously thought that would give him time to find ways to block Velasco’s move to take over as speaker.

But that gives little time for both the House and the Senate to finalize a new budget. For Duterte, that was totally unacceptable as the 2020 budget — which would be the same for next year because of Cayetano’s greed for power — had not taken into account the huge expenses needed to address the coronavirus pandemic.

Last Thursday in a televised address, Duterte angrily ordered the House to convene a special session from October 13 to 16 to finalize the 2021 budget, lecturing the House: “Think of the Filipino in the hospital now because of the pandemic, needing medicine; think of the Filipinos dying because he doesn’t have the medicine.”

Being Speaker has gone to Cayetano’s head, and he has forgotten that he is in that post solely and only because Duterte ordered the congressmen to put him there. This episode is another confirmation of the truth of the adage, “Whom the gods choose to destroy, they first make mad.” I’m certain one of Duterte’s p***ng**as in his televised address was meant for Cayetano.

With the President livid over what he has done, and if he still has some reasoning functions in his head, Cayetano should pack up and leave and take his 24 vassals with him on his way out.

Postscript

After I had finished writing this column, veteran newsman and Cayetano friend, Sunday Punch publisher Ermin Garcia, whom I had asked to comment on the issue the other day,finally sent me his views on the issue. With my deadline close, I decided not to integrate it to my column and instead publish it verbatim, as follows:

“Cayetano is not hanging on. He. would never embarrass President Duterte. He got pissed off with Velasco with his black ops about having no palabra de honor since mid-September when the date of turnover is not till October 22, while insisting on his September 30 date.

“The last straw was when Velasco violated the understanding as directed by Duterte that it should be Alan who should make the announcement as a sign that he’s keeping his word on the term-sharing. But Velasco made the announcement even before Duterte left the place — evidently to embarrass Alan — that he was told off by the President. The decision to suspend session was to avert series of grandstanding on amendments that would delay passage of budget and attribute failure to him. This is why he now welcomes the President’s call for special session because Velasco will no longer be able to resort to delaying tactics. Expect him to resign after the budget…or accept a motion to make the post vacant.

“Btw, re Velasco’s meeting with the President last week, his PR was Duterte asked for the meeting with him. I asked [Palace] spokesman Harry [Roque Jr.] about it, and he said it was Velasco who requested for the mtg. This guy is scheming, manipulative.”

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