Duterte ‘hands off’ in House speakership row after brokering term-sharing deal — Palace

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Duterte ‘hands off’ in House speakership row after brokering term-sharing deal — Palace

Christian Deiparine

(Philstar.com) – October 12, 2020 – 5:55pm

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 6:23 p.m.) — Malacañang on Monday said President Rodrigo Duterte will no longer involve himself in House matters after the term-sharing deal he brokered between two allies seemed to have blown up and put the government’s spending plan next year in peril.

Congressmen allied with Rep. Lord Allan Velasco (Marinduque) on Monday moved to unseat Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and install the former as the chamber’s new leader during a remote session at a sports club in Quezon City.

At least 186 lawmakers allied with Velasco voted to oust Cayetano. Under House rules, more than the 152 votes are required to get a majority vote in the House.

The latest development in the House speakership row came days after Duterte issued a strong warning to Congress — a co-equal branch of government — that he will intervene if the chamber fails to pass the 2021 national budget.

“Either you resolve the issue about your impasse and pass the budget legally and constitutionally. If you can’t do it, I’ll do it for you,” Duterte said last week.

Cayetano, meanwhile, rejected his colleagues’ move to unseat him as unconstitutional, warning that Velasco is in for “one hell of a fight” by seemingly trying to “burn this house down.”

The developments on Monday unfolded at the same time when presidential spokesperson Harry Roque’s briefing was ongoing, where he said the president has had enough of politics in the House.

“Let’s just say he has learned from the politics happening in the House,” he said in mixed English and Filipino. “He just wants the work to be done and the budget to be passed.”

The rivalry between the Taguig-Pateros lawmaker and Velasco escalated further when Cayetano suspended the House’s budget hearings until November after passing the appropriations bill on second reading.

It had led to Duterte finally addressing Congress, ordering a three-day special session and warning that he will take matters into his own hands should the budget’s passage be delayed.

In 2019, the leader of a supposedly independent branch of government arranged a deal that would let Cayetano serve as House leader for 15 months or from July of that year to October 2020, with Velasco taking the helm for the next 21 months or until 2022.

Now, the Palace says the president’s concern is nothing more than the budget that includes funding for government’s coronavirus response.

“Ang pakiusap niya, ipasa ang 2021 budget. Wala na po siyang pakialam kung anong gagawin ng mga mambabatas matapos [ito],” Roque said.

(The president’s appeal to congressmen is to pass the 2021 budget. He will no longer care about what happens next in the House after its passage.)

Concerns about a reenacted budget emerged in the recent days with Health Secretary Francisco Duque III warning that programs related to responding to COVID-19 may be affected.

The move of Velasco’s allies came after his meeting on Sunday with Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, whom the president said was behind the ouster of Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez as then House Speaker.