The last hurrah
This was the title of a 1956 popular political novel in which an aging mayor found himself overtaken by new trends in campaigning, such as attack ads on TV, that made his decades-long brand of retail patronage and politics obsolete. It comes to mind as the battle between the current Speaker, Alan Peter Cayetano, and his supposed term-sharing partner, Lord Allan Velasco, continues. This battle in many ways is the last hurrah of the ruling coalition.
There is a practical reason for this: The ongoing budget deliberations, which will fund government’s projects and programs (including those of legislators) for 2021, is the actual election year budget of the government. Next year’s budget deliberations, which begins with the President’s farewell Sona in July 2021, will fund a stopgap budget mainly for the election in 2022 and the transition from one administration to the next. That Sona, traditionally speaking, also kicks off the 2022 campaign with the anointing of a preferred successor—but that anointing, if it’s to mean anything, requires fat and happy coalition partners who have the projects on hand for their constituencies in 2021 and not 2022. So, again: The budget being debated now is the campaign budget.
Pia Ranada’s thorough reporting on the factions and their huddles in and out of the Palace over the speakership reminds us that when the term-sharing deal between
Cayetano and Velasco was originally arrived at, Cayetano had ended up with the shorter end of the stick: 15 months for Cayetano and 21 months for Velasco. That may have represented the relative weight of the factions arrayed behind each candidate back when the agreement was made, but it could equally as well have been a case of Cayetano and friends shrewdly insisting on getting their hands on the levers of the House now, leaving Velasco with a bag of hot air for later.
In last week’s column, I outlined the factions represented at the Palace meetings, with the Nacionalistas (Villar), National Unity (Razon),
Iglesia ni Cristo-affiliated, Marcos-Romualdez, Arroyo, etc. factions behind Cayetano, and the much-diminished grab bag of local barons known as PDP-Laban as well as the NPC (Ang) batting for Velasco. Ranada’s reporting reminds us of another clique: the Cabinet, where both the ever-present Sen. Bong Go and still-influential Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez are said to be for Cayetano. This suggests the odds being heavily stacked in Cayetano’s favor, with little going for Velasco except the perception that the President prefers him — a perception that may play to the gallery, but this is not the Senate. The House is traditionally immune to public opinion on a national scale.
While both sides sport their fair share of provincial barons, there are those with a national perspective and those still getting accustomed to operating on the national stage. The majority of the former are for Cayetano. This leaves the minority, composed of the latter, lacking the means to put their candidate over the top. There is the suggestion that congressmen were willing to back Cayetano when he played one of the oldest parliamentary tricks in the book, calling for a vote of confidence he knew he’d win; the idea is that this was simply to tide Cayetano over until his birthday, which takes place on Oct. 28, that is, during the congressional recess that starts on Oct. 16 and ends on Nov. 16. To be sure, this is a convenient pretext for justifying an extension (including one that suggests the President proposed extending Cayetano to December, making the deal slightly less lopsided).
The clincher in the public mind, however, remains the President. Ranada’s reportage has opinion quoted on either side of the question whether the President is beginning to become, already is, or isn’t, a lame duck. There is the unique context of his already being the first president in the modern presidency to lose control over determining the speakership; the first round of Cayetano-Velasco might as well have been decided behind the scenes with the President rolled out like the Japanese emperors of old, to rubber-stamp the decision of the cliques. To date, there is little to suggest the President is providing more than a venue for the cliques to show each other the hands they possess, with the President feebly ratifying the results: He states support for Velasco on one hand, while receiving Cayetano after his confidence vote on the other, with Cayetano in place and Velasco still thwarted.