House buckles down to work and constitute itself for 18th Congress

By Ellson Quismorio

The House of Representatives has a lot of catching up to do in terms of constituting committees and filling out top positions–something that could hamper work in the chamber at the start of the 18th Congress.

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

According to Partido Demokratiko Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) stalwart Surigao del Sur 2nd district Rep. Johnny Pimentel, the assignment of positions in the 305-member House will only start “once we know who the Speaker will be.”

On Monday night, PDP-Laban chairman, President Rodrigo Duterte finally set the course for the House regarding the Speakership race after weeks of refusing to endorse anybody.

READ MORE:  Duterte endorses Cayetano, Velasco as next Speaker in term-sharing deal

He said his former running mate, Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano and party-mate Marinduque lone district Rep. Lord Allan Velasco will be the Speakers of the 18th Congress under an unprecedented term-sharing agreement.

Duterte also said Leyte 1st district Rep. Martin Romualdez, who was viewed as a frontrunner in the race alongside Cayetano and Velasco, will be the Majority Floor Leader, so that one big position filled.

Notwithstanding Duterte’s intervention, Pimentel said there was still a lot of work that need to be done in this regard.

“There are 61 standing committees and 14 special committees. The Transportation Committee is the largest, with 80 members. The Appropriations Committee has 25 vice chairmen. From six, we now need to have 14 Deputy Speakers,” the Mindanao solon enumerated.

“That will take two months,” Pimentel said when asked how long it will take for the House to designate members to those positions.

Traditionally, the Chief Executive picks his or her preferred Speaker a few weeks after the conduct of the polls, which fall in the month of May. From there, the congressmen–under the guidance of the presumptive Speaker–will begin the task of assigning committee chairmanships and memberships in time for the opening of Congress in late July.

The current crop of House members won’t have this luxury. “In the past, way before July, ayos na yan (that’s already finished),” noted Pimentel.

He bared a few insights on how the House leadership chooses a congressman for a particular position.

“There are what we call ‘Speaker’s choice’ positions which are reserved for chairmanships of the important committees. This means that it is Speaker who chooses them,” he said, referring to the Appropriations, Ways and Means, and Justice panels, just to name a few.

“There are also party allocations for chairmanships wherein the membership of different political parties in the House are taken into account.”

United House

Citing his experience as an example, Pimentel said there were also instances wherein a panel would take several months before it could be properly constituted.

“In the 17th Congress, it was already October when I was named chairman of the Good Government [and Public Accountability] Committee by the Majority Leader,” he recounted.

At any rate, Pimentel welcomed Duterte’s pronouncements regarding the Speakership since they can now begin work.

“I am very pleased because now we can start working and Congress is now united and cohesive again to support the legislative agenda of the President.”

Sessions will resume in the 18th Congress on July 22.