By Leila B. Salaverria, July 31 2018; Philippine Daily Inquirer


Image Credit to Interaksyon.com

The administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is staging a comeback, with officials who had served under her winning leadership positions in the House of Representatives after her election as Speaker of the chamber.

During the House reorganization on Monday, Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., who served as Arroyo’s budget secretary when she was President, was elected as the new majority leader and automatically became chair of the chamber’s powerful rules committee.

Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro nominated Andaya, who accepted the post of majority leader when nobody challenged the motion.

Rump session leader

Andaya replaced Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, who fell from power with his ally, Pantaleon Alvarez, the Davao del Norte representative who lost the speakership to Arroyo in a sordid leadership row last week.

Fariñas offered no resistance to Andaya’s election as majority leader.

It was Andaya who led the rump session that elected Arroyo on Monday afternoon, leading to the fray that delayed President Rodrigo Duterte’s State of the Nation Address to a joint session of Congress for more than an hour.

After the President’s speech, the House resumed session and officially elected Arroyo as the chamber’s new leader, dumping Alvarez whose abrasive style had offended many of the lawmakers.

Elected on Monday as the new House sergeant-at-arms was Romeo Prestoza, who headed the Presidential Security Group and the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines when Arroyo was the President. Prestoza replaced Roland Detabali.

Dante Roberto Maling was named acting secretary general, replacing lawyer Cesar Pareja.

The majority also named Leyte Rep. Yedda Romualdez as the new chair of the accounts committee, which handles the internal budget of the chamber, including disbursements and financial operations.

She is the wife of former Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, an Arroyo supporter and cousin of Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos.

Minority leadership row

But the squabble over the leadership of the House minority continued on Monday, bringing together strange bedfellows.

During the session, Andaya “acknowledged” Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez as minority leader, to which Marikina Rep. Romero Quimbo objected.

Quimbo, a member of the Liberal Party (LP), joined the members of the militant Makabayan bloc in asserting their position that their group should be recognized as the minority because they did not vote for Arroyo as Speaker.

The LP and the militant lawmakers were bitter rivals during the Aquino administration.

Quimbo maintained that his group should be recognized as the minority and not Suarez, who was Arroyo’s top supporter during the speakership row.

He said this was in accordance with the House rules, which state: “Members who vote for the winning candidate for Speaker shall constitute the majority in the House…”

“Let’s not start off on the wrong foot,” he told the plenary.

Quimbo wrote to Arroyo on Monday to inform her that 15 members of the minority elected him as their leader, while another seven lawmakers applied and were accepted into his group.

Not applicable

But Ako Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin said the rule that Quimbo cited applied only to the opening of Congress and the initial election of Speaker, not to the subsequent change of leadership.

When Arroyo was elected Speaker, there were already majority and minority blocs that had been duly constituted, Garbin said.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, who is with Quimbo’s group, said Suarez could not claim an iota of legitimacy as member of the minority.

“They dug their own grave as minority when they campaigned and voted for the new Speaker, former President and Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Their resurrection to their erstwhile status as minority is utterly nil and inconceivable,” Lagman said.

Senate, House minority?

The minority bloc serves as check and balance to the dominant group in the chamber.

Fariñas explained why his group should be recognized as the minority and not that of Quimbo’s.

He said Quimbo’s group should not be recognized as the minority because it would allow the LP to control a bloc in both chambers of Congress.

“If the LP will take this, God bless the administration of President Duterte because both Houses will be under the control of the Liberal Party. In the Senate, the minority is the Liberal Party. In the House, if you give it to the Liberal Party, it’s up to you, you did this,” he said.

Vice President Leni Robredo has taken on the task of leading the opposition, he noted.

“Do you want the LP to be the opposition, to be the minority here? You better scratch your heads because they will be members in every committee, in every oversight committee, including the rules committee,” he said.

Fariñas also said Suarez abandoned the minority when he voted for Arroyo. This means Suarez’s deputy in the minority, ABS Rep. Eugene de Vera, should be the new leader of the bloc.

He said he and his allies had applied to De Vera to join the minority and had been accepted into the group. —WITH A REPORT FROM PATHRICIA ANN V. ROXAS