October 12, 2020

Pres. Duterte to trap Cayetano today? Alan Peter still has way out

Evidence suggests that President Rodrigo Duterte may have put Speaker Cayetano on the horns of a dilemma, between Scylla and Charybdis, between the devil and the deep blue sea, between a rock and a hard place. 

But before we go any further, let me state that the special sessions that President Duterte ordered [0] should be enough to pass the 2021 National Budget in the House of Representatives. That is, the nation’s primary concern, a COVID-19 budget, should not be a problem anymore, thanks to PRRD’s intervention.

With that said, we can now discuss the secondary issue, the ongoing speakership war.

Let’s start with the facts

Here's what happened so far:
1. The House holds regular sessions on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesday [1].

2. Per the current legislative calendar mutually agreed upon by the House and the Senate [2], the suspension of session is slated on 17 October 2020, so there should be regular sessions on 12-14 October 2020 (Monday to Wednesday).

3. However, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano prematurely declared a suspension of session on 06 October 2020 [3], thereby cancelling the 12-14 October 2020 session days.

4. President Duterte views this suspension as illegal and unconstitutional [4].

5. Duterte’s view is seconded by Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo publicly said Cayetano’s move to suspend House Sessions is unconstitutional per Sec 16, Art VI, of the Constitution [5].

6. President Duterte issued a proclamation ordering special sessions on 13 to 16 October 2020 [6]. Interestingly, these dates exclude Monday, 12 October 2020.
Interestingly, PRRD did not include, 12 October 2020, in the schedule of special sessions he ordered, and that decision may be a trap that can ensnare Cayetano.

What trap are you talking about?

Today, which is supposed to be regular session day, Speaker Cayetano has only two possible courses of action: 
1. Keep the suspension in place 

2. Lift the suspension and convene the House 
Let’s elaborate.


If Cayetano decides to keep sessions suspended, that would be a cancellation of sessions on October 7th (Tuesday), October 8th (Wednesday), and October 12th (Monday, today). Hence, Cayetano would be openly defying President Duterte, who views this move as unconstitutional.

In short, if Cayetano keeps doesn’t hold a regular session today, then that’s Cayetano’s de facto withdrawal of support for the Duterte Administration. If Cayetano does this, he loses any remaining opportunity to plausibly deny his loss of support for PRRD.

Imagine, the President and his chief legal counsel already said that what Cayetano’s doing is unconstitutional but Cayetano still insists on doing it? The president repeatedly says that he hates being humiliated, and this brazen defiance on Cayetano’s part qualifies as a humiliation.

Moreover, a majority of House members may still opt to convene today despite the suspension by invoking majority in numbers (power to the greater number) and the constitutional duty to pass the budget to meet a national emergency (the COVID-19 pandemic).

That is, Cayetano may try to prevent a session, but a session may happen anyway. And if a session happens, that will lead us to the next scenario.


If Cayetano decides to follow the Constitution by lifting the suspension and convenes a regular House session today per the legislative calendar, he opens himself up to the possibility of ouster from the speakership.

Reports indicate that at least 200 members (two-thirds) of the House are now backing Velasco [7]. Add the fact that Velasco appears to have the backing of President Duterte himself [8] and his likely successor, Davao City Mayor Inday Sara Duterte [9].

Given PRRD’s 91% approval rating this late in his term [10], Sara’s 2022 chances are quite rosy, so any administration-aligned congressman with an instinct for political survival will not be as defiant as Cayetano.

Case in point is the hastily conducted Sunday press conference in the House [11], attended by LRay Villafuerte (NP), Pidi Barzaga (NUP), Egay Erice (LP), Mike Defensor (Party-List Coalition), Prospero Pichay (Lakas), and Benny Abante (NUP).

After viewing that presser, I observed that all of the attendees dodged the speakership issue, except LRay Villafuerte and Benny Abante, who were vocally against a speakership change. Everybody sees Villafuerte as Cayetano’s de facto right-hand guy so that’s not surprising. Meanwhile, Abante belongs to the House Minority, so his stance isn’t surprising either.

Moreover, what’s more interesting is not a single cabinet official has come forward to defend Cayetano after the October 6th suspension of sessions.

That is, it appears that Cayetano and Villafuerte, after overplaying their cards, are on their own.

A Sliver of Hope for Alan Peter

Given the discussion above, there are three primary possibilities:

POSSIBILITY 1: Cayetano openly defies Duterte by keeping the suspension despite Duterte’s view that it’s unconstitutional, which would eject Cayetano from the Duterte Coalition.

POSSIBILITY 2: The first possibility happens, then the majority of House Members proceed to hold a session and oust Cayetano.

POSSIBILITY 3: Cayetano lifts suspension and convenes session today, only to be ousted.

These three possibilities indicate that Cayetano’s prospects are bleak. However, he may still have some hope in the numbers game.

While Velasco’s camp claims support of 200 congressmen, it is likely that the estimate is bloated, and that leads us to…

POSSIBILITY 4: Cayetano convenes session today and remains as speaker.

To replace Cayetano, Velasco needs support from 153 out of 304 sitting solons. So far, only PDP-Laban, NPC, and the Party-list Coalition (led by Mikee Romero) has openly declared support for Velasco. In as far as numbers, PDP Laban has about 63 solons, NPC has 33, Party-list Coalition has 54. Combining the numbers of these three parties, we get 150.

That’s a total of 150 members, or about 3 short of the 153 required. Now, Inday Sara’s Hugpong ng Pagbabago has 3 solons and Pro-Duterte Partido Federal has 8 members, and that brings the total to 164, which would be more than enough to constitute a majority.

But even the bigger political parties suffering from varying degrees of factionalism. For example, PDP has a 4-member Zamora Faction that may opt to support Cayetano. There have also been a few defections over the past couple of years.

That is, Velasco may not get all the 164 votes from those congressmen listed. Worse, he may get less than 153, which would make his speakership bid fail.

Nacionalista is expected to vote mostly for its party-mate Cayetano. NUP, another large party, appears to be split on the speakership issue [12].

With that said, this may put the 19-member Lakas – headed by Majority Leader Martin Romualdez – in a very interesting position. With such numbers, Lakas may decide who becomes speaker, i.e. whether Cayetano remains or Velasco rises. 

Will Lakas be the clincher?

Let me spell this out for you.

There’s a pretty good possibility that Romualdez’s Lakas may serve as the clincher vote. If Lakas supports Velasco, then Cayetano may be ousted. If Lakas supports Cayetano, Cayetano may remain as speaker.

With that said, Romualdez’s recent announcement. i.e. speakership vote but only after budget deliberations, i.e. no speakership vote on Monday, is an interesting decision.

With that pronouncement, Romualdez enlarges his bargaining chip in the House Speakership race. Romualdez can leverage his party’s potentially crucial 19 votes to gain more power in the House.

But then, Lakas-CMD’s decision will be decided by the two primary factors:

First, the quality of Cayetano’s offer and whether Velasco is willing match or exceed it.

A closely contested speakership race like this one means that the challenger may have to divide the power pie among fewer solons, as opposed to the incumbent which has to cater to the supermajority. Hence, it is reasonable to assume that Velasco will likely be able to match whatever Cayetano will offer to Lakas.

Second, the opinion of Lakas-CMD’s leadership.

The ghosts of Cayetano’s past may hound him. Lakas-CMD’s incumbent chairman is Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr, whose past pork barrel-related incarceration was at least partly due to Cayetano’s attacks [13]. Meanwhile, senior Lakas member and former President Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo, to put it extremely lightly, is not exactly fond of Cayetano [14].

To cut the long story short, Lakas members at first glance appear to be thinking long and hard, but it seems like it’s just waiting for Cayetano’s challenger to woo them a bit more.

The odds appear to be stacked against Speaker Cayetano, but he seems to have a reed-thin sliver of hope to slither his way out of this kerfuffle. 

Yes, Cayetano will likely fail to wiggle his way out of this, but it's not an impossibility.

Today will be a very exciting day for political observers like me. [ThinkingPinoy]


[0] Manila Times. Duterte orders special session. 10 October 2020. https://rjnieto.me/2Fo9ALW

[1] House of Representatives. Congressional Records. Retrieved 12 Oct 2020. https://rjnieto.me/3iTopng

[2] Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri. Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 13. 27 August 2020. https://rjnieto.me/3jOJi4w

[3] Manila Times. Cayetano suspends session until Nov 16. 07 October 2020. https://rjnieto.me/2SKmhUv

[4] Daily Tribune. House suspension of sessions unconstitutional, illegal — Duterte. 09 October 2020. https://rjnieto.me/3nJzhYO

[5] Manila Times. Cayetano move to suspend session unconstitutional - Panelo. 11 October 2020. https://rjnieto.me/2SNH7lD

[6] See “0”.

[7] Manila Times. Velasco wins support of 200 lawmakers. 12 October 2020. https://rjnieto.me/3dfFE12

[8] Manila Bulletin. Duterte feels duped by Cayetano. 09 October 2020. https://rjnieto.me/2SKpHqj

[9] CNN Philippines. LOOK: Lord Allan Velasco meets with Sara Duterte amid House tussle. 11 October 2020. https://rjnieto.me/33NoYe4

[10] CNN Philippines. Duterte approval rating rises to 91% amid pandemic, Cayetano suffers drop – survey. 05 October 2020. https://rjnieto.me/36xWlDr

[11] House of Representatives. Press Conference. 11 October 2020. https://rjnieto.me/3nGdu4c

[12] CNN Philippines. Pulong Duterte steps back from House speakership tussle. 08 October 2020. https://rjnieto.me/33MDxyG

[13] Inquirer. Bong Revilla, Jinggoy Estrada, Enrile seen ending terms in jail. 28 June 2014. https://rjnieto.me/3jRm8dB

[14] PhilStar. Cayetano an ‘ungrateful man’ — Mike A. 08 September 2006. https://rjnieto.me/34pE34J

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