By Jovee Marie de la Cruz, July 22 2019; Business Mirror

Image Credit to Business Mirror

TWO breakfast meetings at the House of Representatives, just hours before the opening of the 18th Congress and the President’s State of the Nation Address, are being seen as indications the smooth transition Malacañang had hoped for may not be forthcoming.

And, as a senior lawmaker put it on Sunday, some people may have sleepless nights on Sona’s eve, in a throwback to the 2018 hours-long standoff at the House, when then-Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez was ousted in a “coup” that installed Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The rowdy, tense transition delayed President Duterte’s Sona delivery by an hour.

This year, while lawmakers expressed confidence the opening of the First Regular Session of the 18th Congress will go smoothly, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda hinted that lawmakers’ choice might not end with Duterte’s “suggestion” in the speakership race.

In a radio interview on Sunday, Salceda expressed concern on the outcome of the “breakfast meeting” between lawmakers and the President’s son and Davao City Rep. Paolo Duterte hours before the election of the next Speaker. At press time, at least 200 lawmakers had said they will attend the breakfast meeting at the South Lounge.

“He will not call for breakfast if you’re just getting to know them,” Salceda said, adding, “I think he [Duterte] is accepting that he has a responsibility in the years of his influence as a member of the House and as a son of the President.”

According to Salceda, a dark horse in the race may come out after the breakfast meeting. “I would say [Taguig Rep. Alan Peter] Cayetano is still the front-runner but tommorow [Monday], there might be a dark horse,” Salceda added.

Fending off relentless lobbying by speakership aspirants, Duterte said last week his personal preference is a term-sharing setup, with Cayetano taking the first 15 months as Speaker, and Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, the last 21 months. A third key rival, Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, could be majority leader, Duterte said.

May aabangan tayo bukas, definitely, if Polong [Paolo Duterte’s nickname] can pull it. Nasabi na rin ni Presidente na hindi sya magagalit kung iba ang boto sa sinabi nya. Kung hindi na lang sana nasabi yun e di sana tapos na ang boxing,” he said.

On Monday morning, Cayetano and Paolo Duterte both invited lawmakers to a breakfast meeting before the 10 a.m. opening of the 18th Congress.

2 meetings

Duterte’s meeting with lawmakers was set at 8 a.m. while Cayetano’s gathering is at 8:30 a.m.

Before the President’s endorsement, five lawmakers were vying for the speakership: Cayetano, Velasco, Romualdez, Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate.

However, a manifesto of support is also circulating showing “unequivocal support” for the Duterte Coalition. Ungab is one of the founders of the said coalition.

“We stand firm on the leadership of President Duterte and his fight against corruption, drugs and crime, financial stability and overall health of our economy and the unparalleled implementation of infrastructure development all over the country,” the manifesto said.

Duterte had earlier said the speakership issue is still far from over despite the endorsement of Cayetano and Velasco by his father, President Duterte.

He also floated a possible coup amid the fight over the speakership. The young Duterte said the speaker has not been elected and there is still an election on July 22.

The Davao solon earlier backed out from the speakership and supported the bid of Ungab from Hugpong ng Pagbabago, the party founded by his sister, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.

Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor said everyone respects the endorsement of President Duterte.

“I don’t think there will be a coup [today],” he said. According to Defensor, three camps have  already accepted the President’s decision.

Genuine opposition

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, meanwhile, challenged the incoming leadership of the lower chamber to allow and recognize “a genuine and constructive” leader of the opposition in the House of Representatives.

Lagman said the presumptive Speaker has never said anything about respecting the emergence of an authentic minority leader.

“A real and responsible opposition will not only assure a democratic legislative process but will also restore the credibility of the House of Representatives,” he said.

Earlier, former House Majority Leader Fredenil Castro of Capiz declared interest to become minority leader of the 18th Congress.

For his part, Cayetano said that if elected, he would welcome full debates with members of the minority.

New positions

Cayetano, meanwhile, is planning to create new key positions in the House of Representatives to ensure the passage of priorities of the 18th Congress.

Cayetano said he will create new posts for Deputy Speakers for Finance, Economic Development, Internal Affairs and Education.

According to Cayetano, he will create a Deputy Speaker for Economic Development to oversee the country’s economic affairs, industry and agriculture.

He added a Deputy Speaker for Internal Affairs will be created and will be headed by Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali Gonzales II. This position has the power to approve decisions that the Majority Leader thinks no longer requires the approval of the Speaker.

“We want to put a Deputy Speaker for Finance, who we will meet regularly with [Committee on] Ways and Means, a Deputy Speaker for Education who will meet with Tesda, CHED [and] DepEd,” he said.

Cayetano also named Duterte as deputy speaker for political affairs.

But, he said, the current Deputy Speakers for Northern, Central, Southern Luzon, Eastern and Western Visayas, Southern and Northern Mindanao and Metro Manila would be retained.