The Long View: The Lord giveth and taketh away


The Lord giveth and taketh away

 / 05:06 AM September 30, 2020

Abraham Lincoln, a statesman but also a practical politician, once described the problems of the presidency when it came to patronage in these terms: “Too many piglets, too few teats.” To become Speaker of the House requires being given the keys to the Cabinet containing baby bottles. Or so it was explained to me in 1987, as I proceeded to observe Cornelio Villareal fall asleep in mid-session. He was pointed out to me as a living relic of the 1934 Constitutional Convention, and both the prewar National Assembly of the Commonwealth and the post-war, pre-martial law, House of Representatives, of which he was Speaker when the dictatorship began.

Villareal’s speakership, in fact, became proof of how the party system had decayed from the time he’d been an up-and-coming assemblyman. President Marcos found himself reminded once too often by Speaker Jose B. Laurel Jr. of what he owed the Nacionalistas who’d taken him in when Marcos, up to then a stalwart Liberal, had found his ambitions blocked by incumbent President Diosdado Macapagal who’d supposedly promised to be a single-term president to make way for Marcos. So the Laurels welcomed Marcos into the Nacionalista fold from the Liberals as they’d done with Magsaysay, but Marcos lived long enough not only to secure a second term, but also to outgrow his dependence on the Laurels.

So Marcos engineered the removal of his partymate, Laurel, from the speakership, and ensured the election of his ex-partymate, Villareal, thus publicizing the existence of the “Marcos bloc” of Liberals in what was supposed to be the opposition party. To cut a long story short, whether NP or LP, enough members of both chambers of Congress believed they’d automatically get seats in a new National Assembly to not protest very hard when the dictatorship maneuvered a new constitution into place to prevent Congress’ convening for its regular session in January 1973. The punchline to this comes via Raissa Robles, who quoted Villareal going up to Marcos, 10 years later, and joking that Marcos had told them to be patient for their return to the legislature and they were still waiting.

As it turned out, Villareal was durable enough to easily achieve election to the House when it was restored. But the legacy of coalition politics in the lower house remains as dominated as ever by the guiding hand of the Palace. The only exception to this was when Gloria

Macapagal Arroyo ousted Pantaleon Alvarez from the speakership, with the connivance, by all accounts, of the Mayor of Davao even as her father, the former mayor-turned-president, was left fuming and fumbling in the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office in the Batasang Pambansa. The President appeared more in control the next time around, when a term-sharing compromise was reached between Alan Peter Cayetano and Lord Allan Velasco.

As of this writing, slated to appear before the President is a delegation composed of Speaker Cayetano, Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, Deputy Speakers Abraham Tolentino, Rodante Marcoleta, Raneo Abu, and LRay Villafuerte, Rep. Jonathan Sy-Alvarado of Bulacan, Rep. Mikey Arroyo of Pampanga, and Rep. Velasco of Marinduque. They are a cross-section of the ruling coalition: Cayetano, Abu, and Villafuerte are members of the Villar Party (also known as the Nacionalistas); Tolentino and Velasco belong to PDP-Laban (which has devolved into the provincial barons bloc); Romualdez and Arroyo are Lakas-Kampi-CMD (though more accurately seen as the Marcos-Romualdez and Arroyo blocs); Marcoleta is identified with the Iglesia ni Cristo; and Sy-Alvarado belongs to the National Unity Party (otherwise understood as the Razon bloc).

This means, by the time you read this, either the Palace would have announced that Cayetano remains, or Cayetano will go. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, but whatever happens, the Lord in question is the President and not Velasco.

The chattering class has noticed the absence of any representative of the bloc formerly known as Hugpong, though there’d been an ominous warning from the President’s son, Deputy Speaker Paolo Duterte, that he would be making a movement on the House session floor. But the movement didn’t happen, which would have either embarrassed the Speaker (if he fell) or politically neutered the President’s son (if he’d failed). The real irritant was the apportioning of projects for districts. Since the scuttlebutt in the days of Alvarez was that the speaker and committee chairmen were getting the lion’s share of the spoils, it may be that peace will return to the House — and here, the Villar bloc may simply be better at divvying up things, thus postponing permanently the Lord’s ascension to the speakership.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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