By Ben Rosario
“Keep off the speakership decision!”
In strongly-worded statements, two senior administration congressmen yesterday chided members of the Duterte Cabinet for allegedly infringing into the constitutional policy of separation of powers by meddling into the race for the top leadership of the House of Representatives.
Outgoing Senior Deputy Minority Leader and Buhay Partylist Rep. Lito Atienza said Cabinet officials seeking to revive the already abandoned idea of term-sharing for the speakership apparently wanted an ally to become the next Speaker in order to protect budgetary improprieties like those uncovered by congressmen in the 2019 budget bill.
“Congress has never interfered in the work of the executive branch. Why should they meddle in our affairs,” Rep. Johnny Pimentel (PDP-Laban, Surigao del Sur) in a separate statement.
Atienza and Pimentel reacted strongly to reports that Cabinet men appeared to have convinced Duterte to reconsider his previous position not to endorse any candidate for speaker and allow the Lower House to choose its own leader.
“I stand by him (Duterte). I would really defend his decision to give Congress the prerogative to choose its leaders,” said Atienza.
“The Cabinet has no business whatsoever to meddle with the affairs of the House. We should respect the independence of the three institutions of democracy –the executive, legislative and the judiciary,” he stated.
For his part, Pimentel called on Cabinet men to “respect the independence of the legislative branch.”
“Let us settle the speakership issue among ourselves,” he stated.
Atienza said the judiciary should also stop meddling with the affairs of the executive department, referring to recent statements issued by Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio on the Duterte government’s position in the West Philippine Sea territorial controversy.
Atienza aired strong suspicions that the Cabinet “maneuverings for the speakership” were aimed at supporting Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano’s bid to become the next speaker.
Reports have indicated that Cabinet officials were pushing for the implementation of the term sharing scheme that will give Cayetano the first 15 months of the 18th Congress to sit as speaker.
Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, on the other hand, will serve the remaining 21 months.
“May usapan sila ni Cayetano kaya si Cayetano ang kanilang bet. Bakit kailangan ibalik ang term sharing? It is anathema to democracy, it will only hamper our legislative work, it is detrimental for effective delivery of services,” Atienza stressed.
He accused certain Cabinet men of wanting to put a strong ally as speaker in order to protect their own budgetary insertions for “non-essential infrastructure projects” that were grossly overpriced yet unnecessary.
Atienza cited the discovery by congressmen of multi-million peso flood control projects that were funded under the 2017 and 2018 national budget although these were to be implemented in areas safe from flooding
Congressmen have also discovered so-called “parked pork barrel funds” reaching P72 billion to finance infrastructure projects in congressional districts that supposedly do not have any immediate need for them.