Speakership race 'chaotic' without anointed one

By Ellson Quismorio and Charissa Luci-Atienza

Surigao del Sur (2nd district) Rep.Johnny Pimentel said Sunday that the upcoming House speakership race could be a "chaotic" one without a Malacañang-endorsed candidate.

Surigao del Sur 2nd district Rep. Johnny Pimentel (Facebook / MANILA BULLETIN) Surigao del Sur 2nd district Rep. Johnny Pimentel (Facebook / MANILA BULLETIN)

"If the President will not endorse anybody, it will be a free-for-fall and chaotic ," commented the former chairman of the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability.

President Rodrigo Duterte has reportedly adopted a "hands off" approach on the speakership, meaning he would let the 304-strong members of the chamber decide among themselves who their next leader will be.

There are reportedly around half a dozen House members vying for the Speakership in the upcoming 18th Congress, but only three are believed to have an actual shot at winning the seat.

Leyte (1st district) Rep. Martin Romualdez, incoming Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano, and reelected Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco are the "strongest three" contenders, each claiming to have the backing of their respective political factions in the House.

According to Pimentel, getting endorsed by the Chief Executive is still the surest way for a House member to win the coveted speaker's seat.

"The most important for the victory of a candidate for speaker is the endorsement of the President. If he is endorsed by the President, all the congressmen will support that candidate. Sure winner na siya (He's a sure winner).

Northern Samar Representative-elect Paul Daza agrees. The son of the outgoing Northern Samar Rep. Raul Daza said it is better if President Duterte picks his choice for House speaker.

"Most congressmen, I know a good number , are actually waiting and hoping that the President, at least, announces a preferred one," Daza said.

"Most members are caught in a bind. If you know two or three of them, who will you choose? But, the decision will be made easier if the President announces a preferred candidate to rally behind that person," he said.

Close to the President

Another Mindanao lawmaker, Camiguin Rep. Xavier Jesus Romualdo noted that those who won the speakership in recent memory have always been in good graces with the President.

“We've seen that, in Congresses post-EDSA, all speakers have always been close allies of the incumbent president. Thus, historically, it would seem that closeness to the president is an essential requisite to becoming speaker," Romualdo said.

Romualdez (Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats) and Cayetano (Nacionalista Party) are coalition partners of the Duterte administration, while Velasco (Partido Demokratiko Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan) is a party-mate of Duterte.

A big factor in a speakership race participated in mostly by administration allies is the strong possibility that one of them might become the minority leader. Traditionally, the congressman who ends up second in the Speakership vote automatically becomes the minority leader, with those voting for him/her comprising the Minority Bloc.

This would be an awkward set up since the House Minority's supposed task is to fiscalize the administration and call it out for its errors. That is, unless, the Minority Bloc in the 18th Congress becomes a "company union," or basically the administration's handpicked Minority.

It was for this reason that opposition solon, Albay (1st district) Rep. Edcel Lagman recently called on the Speaker hopefuls--particularly those friendly toward Duterte -- to chose just one candidate among themselves.

Daza said supporting the President's candidate does not mean the Lower Chamber would become a rubber stamp of Malacañang.

"I don't think it is a conflict of interest if the speaker is in good terms with the President. Let us say, the Speaker wasn't in good terms with Malacanang, you never get anything passed," he explained.

"The President has three years left. I think he should not be shy and indicate a preferred one and then everybody can rally that person and come up with a common agenda. Let us come up with an agenda that we think is doable for the next three years," Daza added.

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