Presidential son and Deputy Speaker for Political Affairs Paolo Duterte on Thursday finally broke his silence over the leadership row in the Lower House as Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano continues to defy his term-sharing agreement with Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco.
In a statement, the Davao City solon said Velasco could replace Speaker Cayetano even if the Taguig-Pateros congressman claims that he still enjoys the support of his colleagues in 306-man House of Representatives.
Duterte stressed that Velasco has all the right to invoke the term-sharing agreement with Cayetano which was brokered by no less than his father, President Rodrigo Duterte last year.
“It can’t be denied that such term-sharing agreement was made before. Because of this, Congressman Velasco has the right to assert his claim to the Speakership,” the young Duterte said.
Under such agreement, Cayetano would sit as House Speaker for the first 15 months of the 18th Congress, while Velasco would succeed him in the remaining 21 months.
Velasco was supposed to replace Cayetano on Oct. 14 as agreed upon by both camps during their recent meeting with the President in Malacañang.
However, on October 6 or a week before Velasco is set to take over the House leadership, Cayetano abruptly suspended the session until November 16 after he and his clique unilaterally terminated the plenary deliberations and approved on second reading the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021.
The Presidential son said he was saddened that due to the issue on term-sharing agreement, “Congress is currently mired in what seems to be a battle between two people I’m close with.”
“For a year and a half, I have formed many friendships in the 18th Congress. Of these, two of those that I treasure most are those with Speaker Alan Cayetano and Congressman Lord Velasco,” Pulong said.
While he recognized that a “considerable number” of their colleagues still support Cayetano, the younger Duterte repeatedly mentioned about the term-sharing agreement in his statement.
It will be recalled that on September 20, Rep. Duterte threatened to declare the posts of Speaker and Deputy Speakers vacant after his name was linked to the speakership feud in relation to the 2021 national budget.
Prior to this, some lawmakers complained about uneven distribution of public works funds among congressional districts in next year’s spending plan.
The disgruntlement among House members became more evident right after the October 6 incident when Cayetano and his small bunch of allies suddenly terminated the budget deliberations.
Many lawmakers have expressed their anger over the suspension of the plenary session, leaving no room for them to scrutinize the budget. Some of them even accused Cayetano of holding the national budget hostage in a bid to cling to power.
Pulong admitted he was “saddened” by the turn of events which showed how divided Congress has become.
“I am saddened that it has come to this—a House divided. And if we remain a House divided, we will fail in our mandate to serve the people as their representatives,” said the Davao City solon.
Duterte nevertheless remained hopeful the House will be able to restore its dignity once the speakership row is settled in a vote.
“If and when the day comes that we are called to select the leader of this House, I hope we vote for someone who is committed, who understands what we want to achieve for our constituents, and who can fight for and with us, and unify the 300 members of this House of Representatives despite our many differences,” he said.
“And when we do make that decision, I hope we can find it in our hearts to vote for someone, not just for convenience or affiliation, but whom we feel strongly can represent the House with the dignity that it deserves.”
Meanwhile, Duterte also asked his colleagues to “remain respectful to one another, and support whoever is the Speaker.”
“At the end of this episode, I hope we can go beyond politics and remember that more than power, it is the relationships we’ve formed in these halls of Congress and our duties to the people, that matter most,” he concluded. (CMC)