August 15, 2019

Speaker Cayetano's "Dolphy Situation": a super typhoon's brewing in the House?

The entire thing started with the bloody speakership race involving Marinduque’s Lord Allan Velasco, Leyte’s Martin Romualdez, and Taguig’s Alan Peter Cayetano. For two straight months, media bombarded the public ad nauseam with blow-by-blow reports, as if nothing else matters to the Common Tao.

Taguig 1st District Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano emerged victorious, but not without great cost.

How much political capital does he have left, and is it enough for him to survive for 15 months?

In the interest of full disclosure, I was briefly a consultant for the Department of Foreign Affairs from July to October 2017, then under Sec. Alan Peter Cayetano. I initially intended to be a 1-peso consultant but DFA officials said I should receive at least the P12,000 monthly minimum rate, which I decided not to collect after I amicably left the agency.

Despite this, I am convinced that Public Interest requires me to proceed with writing this article.

Besides, no less than President Duterte himself in his July 2019 State of the Nation Address encouraged every Filipino citizen to criticize the government when he said:
“You are free to investigate. I don't take offense. If there is anything wrong in my department, the Executive, you are free to open the investigation anytime."
And in line with the president's statement, let’s get it on.

Cayetano’s precarious hold on power

As far as I can see, Cayetano’s current situation is reminiscent of a line from the comedy legend Dolphy.

Asked about his reluctance to enter Politics, Dolphy said:
Doon nga ako natatakot, kasi baka manalo ako (That’s what I’m afraid of, because I might win).
The context within which Dolphy said these words is his fear of neglecting his duties as a public official: he really needs to serve the country if he enters into public office, and he’d rather not run at all if he can’t do that. The offer to run came at a time when it was starting to be fashionable for showbiz celebrities to venture into politics, an offer that Dolphy gracefully declined.

Fair enough.

Cayetano’s context, however, is a little different. That is, after winning the Speakership on 22 July 2019, will Cayetano be a House Speaker through and through or just a speaker only in name? And more importantly, for how long?

Unlike the Presidency where the winner becomes the de facto god of the Executive Branch, the Speaker of the House is generally considered as primus inter pares, meaning first among equals. Unlike the president who can be removed only through impeachment, the House Speaker may be removed through a much simpler process of nominal voting within the chamber.

House of Representatives Rule XV Sec.116 extensively defines the process of nominal voting but in a nutshell, the House Speakership may be declared vacant if 154 (that’s “50% + 1”) of all 306 congressmen vote in favor of such.

For how long will Cayetano be able to prevent 154 from being bold enough to defy him on this level?

That, I believe, is the most interesting question in Batasang Pambansa today.

Scratch that. Regardless of political color, it's the most interesting Philippine political power struggle question right now.

The Cayetano-Velasco Term-sharing Agreement

A term-sharing agreement between Cayetano and Velasco supposedly exists, where Cayetano is Speaker for the first 15 months then Velasco takes over the remaining 21.

In my best recollection, this arrangement is a first for the House. There may be similar setups in the past but none of them were publicized at all, suggesting that this compromise is so necessary that Cayetano had to publicly admit it in an apparent attempt to assuage disgruntled Velasco allies.

Cayetano, while undoubtedly the most popular politician in his native Taguig City, lacks the same degree of support from his peers in the House. In late June, four major House blocs – PDP-Laban, the Party-list Bloc, NPC, and the Northern Luzon Alliance (NLA) – issued a “Multi-party Manifesto of Support” for Velasco’s speakership bid.

PDP-Laban executive vice president and Pampanga 3rd District Rep. Aurelio Gonzales said without naming specific congressmen that partymate Velasco at the time enjoyed the backing of at least 60 from PDP-Laban, 45 from the Party-list Bloc, 20 from NLA, 15 from Nacionalista, 12 from the Liberal Party, and 25 Independents.

That is, at least 177 of the 306 House members want Velasco and not Cayetano, and that’s over 50% of the House today... at least according to the largest House bloc PDP-Laban.

Meanwhile, Romualdez-leaning representatives led by Anakalusugan Party-list Rep. Michael Defensor claimed 167 congressmen from various parties supported Romualdez’s bid.

Both numbers are likely bloated, but one thing is crystal clear:
Not a single congressman publicly came forward to claim that Cayetano enjoyed any significant support from any major congressional power bloc.
I scoured news reports from the day after the elections up to "SONA Day" on 22 July 19 and I also asked a large number of my contacts from both the Senate and House of Representatives and none suggested that any significant number House members wanted Cayetano to win.

And as we all know, a political bloodbath ensued.

Cayetano vs the Duterte Kids

In late May, Davao City mayor Inday Sara Duterte said Cayetano came to her “with a veiled threat, that if [she] endorses Rep. Velasco for Speaker, [Cayetano] would break up [the pro-Duterte Coalition] and this, he said, will affect the Presidential Elections of 2022.”

In June, Davao City representative Paolo “Pulong” Duterte threw shade at Cayetano as he said in Filipino:
“To my fellow lawmakers, I am just a newcomer but I think that what happened today should serve as a guide for our choice for the next House Speaker… Let’s choose a leader with respect for others, especially women, may they be the spouses of political rivals…”
Rep. Duterte’s statement after Cayetano accused rival Velasco’s wife as among those who machinated for a “term-sharing agreement” between the Cayetano and Velasco. Cayetano apparently wanted to be a speaker for a full three years but he was aware that the compromise agreement was necessary, in light of his lack of popular support in the House.

A Utilitarian Truce?

The two younger Dutertes met with the three speakership candidates in early July and successfully came out with what appears to be a truce.

But this is classic politics, as Balkanization within the pro-Duterte Coalition goes against the interests of any of the meeting’s attendees. The five had to strike a truce out of political necessity, even if it’s just for show.

Yes, the Duterte kids still seem to dislike Cayetano, a suspicion reinforced when Rep. Paolo Duterte threw not-so-subtle shade at Cayetano during the first session of Congress.

In his speakership nomination speech, Duterte said:
“I nominate a leader who understands local and national governance, one who can bridge the different branches of government, one who can ably and fearlessly represent the House of Representatives and the Philippines in the international arena. Mister Speaker, I nominate the distinguished gentleman from the district…”
A long pause followed as the younger Duterte pretended to double-check the paper he’s reading then winked at members on the floor, a cheeky gesture greeted by uncomfortable laughter within the session hall.

Eight-or-so awkward seconds later, he eventually nominated Cayetano, but not without clearly expressing through a brilliantly-timed silence his reluctance to do so.

See it for yourself by watching this video:

But Cayetano still made it, right?

Cayetano appear to have ruffled not only the feathers of the influential Duterte children, but also those of his peers in the house.

In an early July phone interview with ABS-CBN News, Buhay Party-list representative Lito Atienza said:
“That’s what Congressman Cayetano has been bandying around, that he is supported by the cabinet and that in fact, the cabinet would react negatively against the president if [Cayetano] doesn’t get his term-sharing idea.”
This is an extremely loaded statement coming from Atienza, as the phrase “the cabinet would react negatively against the president” may be construed as “the cabinet will do something against the president’s wishes” if Cayetano doesn’t become the speaker.

Atienza, according to the same report, also said Cayetano threatened the House with problems with the budget if he doesn't get his way.

Here's the video clip of that report:

It’s unfortunate that ABS-CBN didn’t ask follow up questions to clarify this loaded statement.

With that said, Atienza seems to have accused Cayetano and his alleged cohorts of blackmailing the House, with the term “cabinet” referring to a group composed of several cabinet members led by Finance Sec. Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez.

Dominguez has stringently denied Atienza’s accusations. He told ABS-CBN that the cabinet consults with the House only in relation to the preparation of the proposed National Budget.

ABS-CBN didn’t get Cayetano’s side but the solon will obviously deny Atienza’s claims, so let’s just assume that he did deny them.

Who backed Cayetano?

What’s clear, however, is that Atienza accused Cayetano of threatening the House with “the cabinet would react negatively against the president” if he doesn’t get his way, although it’s unclear whether the cabinet will actually go against the president or Cayetano’s simply bluffing his way through.

Whichever the case, Atienza clearly accused Cayetano of threatening the House with massive governmental disarray.

While Cayetano is known to enjoy the staunch support of a wealthy mining magnate, I doubt that the businessman has enough clout to persuade congressmen to switch to Cayetano’s side… and I know of no Big Business interests that is backing Cayetano’s bid.

Adding the fact that Cayetano enjoys negligible support from House members as explained in the previous section, logic dictates that Cayetano’s only significantly powerful backer would be some people in the Duterte Cabinet.A high-ranking opposition congressman, whose name shall be withheld after citing fear of retaliation, said President Duterte, just like his two politician-children Paolo and Inday Sara, really wanted Velasco. Some of his more influential secretaries, however, managed to override his wishes.

And it appears that the influence of Cayetano’s group of backers from outside of Congress, whoever they are, was enough to snag the speakership.
Cayetano’s first month in Batasan

House sources independently told this writer that Speaker Cayetano has so far made three major decisions in this first month as House Speaker, namely:
  1. That Congressional consultants will not be given consultancy fees for July 2019,
  2. That contracts of a large number of congressional employees will not be renewed, and,
  3. That there will be a significan reduction of maintenance staff.
At first glance, these sound like relatively innocous administrative decisions but a closer look reveals that these may cause a major migraine for the newly-installed Cayetano.

Let's each of them in greater detail.

First: no consultancy fee payments for July

I spoke with a content writer who handles a veteran Visayas congressman’s online assets (website, social media, etc.) for the past several years, for a measly sum of 16,000 monthly via a congressional consultancy contract.

It’s already the second week of August so she wondered why her consultancy fees haven’t been credited to her bank account, and she expressed immense frustration because she has nothing to pay her monthly bills with.

Just yesterday, she found out that the House Leadership decided against paying out consultancy fees for July 2019, a claim that was independently corroborated by another senior House official.

Regardless of the justification behind this alleged move, it is plenty obvious that all House consultants won’t be too happy about it.

Congressional consultants strongly influence the decisions of their congressman-principal. As explained in the previous sections, a large number of congressmen are already holding grudges against Cayetano’s speakership, grudges that they so far choose to hold at bay. But will these congressmen still be able to hold back if they’re continuously egged on by their consultants, the same consultants that the Cayetano Leadership didn’t pay in July?

That’s the 16,000-peso question.

Second: non-renewal of employment contracts

The House Leadership, sources say, will not be renewing the employment contracts of a large number of House employees and the first wave of non-renewals has already commenced.

Many of the affected House employees have continuously served the chamber for years, and the nature of congressmen being elective officials with term limits forces Congressmen to hire them only on a contractual basis, possible only with approval from the Speaker of the House.

2019 election results show there are at least 140 of the 306 congressmen are serving their second or third term, meaning at least 140 need congressmen need to renew their employees’ contracts.

How many of these 140-or-so solons were affected by this policy and how would those affected react to the reality that non-renewal means will lose their most experienced and most trusted workforce?

And yes, that’s a rhetorical question.

Third: reduction of maintenance staff

The House Leadership, sources say, also intend on reducing the maintenance staff of the Batasang Pambansa complex, or those tasked with ensuring clean, orderly safe, and functional House facilities.

I find this odd because there are only 2 or so janitors per floor so HoR Maintenance is already grossly understaffed as it is. Considering that there are over 660 restrooms in the entire Batasang Pambansa Complex, I cannot imagine how a small workforce will be able to handle all the work.

A Southern Luzon congressman told me that corruption is the knee-jerk theory to explain this move, as Speaker Cayetano’s opponents may argue that the Taguig congressman may be planning to replace retrenched maintenance staff with people from a friendly manpower agency… but the South Luzon congressman said it’s unlikely.

There aren’t a lot of janitors to justify such a theory, he said. Instead, he said it’s not unlikely that the janitors will be replaced by ones loyal to the new House Leadership.

He said I should remember that janitors are like a walking CCTV system: they know who visits which congressman and at times, they get to overhear confidential conversations between powerful people as they, say, mop the floor.

A living, breathing CCTV

The South Luzon congressman’s alternate theory makes quite some sense because publicly available evidence indicate that House employees are likely fond of Cayetano’s predecessor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Arroyo was known to be very generous with employee remuneration. In September last year for example, then Speaker Arroyo gave every House employee a 35,000-peso bonus to get through “taghirap months”. This is on top of the 5,000-peso grocery allowance they received a month before.

And while Arroyo has never publicly expressed her preference for the new speaker, all her allies backed the candidacy of Martin Romualdez, so pretty much everyone believes she supported the Leyte legislator.

Who will be more fond of if I were a janitor in the House, my former employer with a proven history of generosity, or someone whose track record so far involves allegedly Draconian austerity measures?

That’s a rhetorical question.

The congressman said Arroyo’s political rivals may see the current maintenance staff as Arroyo and her allies’ CCTV, and it’s in her rival’s interest to replace them with his own.

Who, again, was Arroyo’s staunchest critic not too long ago?

That, again, is a rhetorical question.

And how would congressmen who may have been benefitting from these janitorial eyes react to the decision to let these janitors go?

That, again, is a rhetorical question.

Let me summarize what was discussed so far

A vast majority of the members of the House of Representatives wanted either Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco or Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez to become House Speaker and Cayetano never publicly received significant support from any significant Congressional bloc.

Cayetano still managed prevail, allegedly through the backing of some powerful Duterte cabinet members who, in turn, were supposedly able to dissuade the President from publicly backing Velasco.

Cayetano eventually became speaker, albeit through a very reluctant majority vote. Most of the House, including those who reluctantly voted for Cayetano, still hold a grudge against the new speaker up to now, although many of them choose to keep their feelings private for fear of retaliation.

But ill feelings are like a poorly constructed dam that can burst with enough rainfall… and some of the rainfall came in the form of heavy-handed policies that directly contradict the core political interests of these disenchanted lawmakers.

Exodus Chapter 1

Just last week, 12 PDP-Laban members moved to the National Unity Party (NUP) after citing “internal conflict” within the administration party, with Presidential son and Davao City Rep. Paolo Duterte leading the pack.

That’s a Statement with a capital “S”.

Inday Sara, the other presidential child, is a mayor and not a House member so she obviously can’t do the same even if she wanted to.

But had she been one, would she?

Did the three new policies help catalyze the mass exodus? After all, a person with 999,999 pesos in his bank account still needs an extra peso to be called a millionaire: without that seemingly insignificant peso, he cannot be part of “the club”.

Note that NUP is still largely supportive of the administration, but its composition strongly suggests that it is not as heavily influenced by MalacaƱang as the administration PDP-Laban.

That is, the younger Duterte and the PDP Laban solons choice to join NUP may be reasonably interpreted as "Hey Mr. President, we still support you but we don't like this speaker."

Will these three new policies, and possible other policies that I have yet to be aware of, catalyze even more defections? Only time will tell.

But more importantly, will members of the House of Representatives be fine with the introduction of even more of the same policies, or will they stop the bleeding while they can?

The next several weeks will be very interesting, my little birds said.

I agree with the Southern Luzon solon: it’s fun to have walking and breathing CCTVs, really.

Dolphy's line perfectly sums up Cayetano's current situation.
Doon nga ako natatakot, kasi baka manalo ako (That’s what I’m afraid of, because I might win).
Yes, Cayetano won the speakership, but given the circumstances under which he won, along with his alleged deeds so far, what being a "Speaker Cayetano" really mean?

I'm curious on whether the widespread social media ops will escalate further after this. *wink* [RJ Nieto / Thinking Pinoy]


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