House should  decide  leadership issue by itself

Published September 10, 2020, 4:23 PM

by Manila Bulletin

The 15 months given  to  Speaker  Alan  Peter  Cayetano  in the 15-21 agreement he had with Marinduque Rep. Lord  Allan Velasco  are fast coming to a close. Under that agreement, Cayetano  was  to serve 15 months and Velasco 21 months.  Cayetano’s 15 months end  next month, October.

That 15-21 agreement  was  brokered  by President Duterte  when  members of the new 18th Congress  could not reach an agreement  by  themselves.  There  was  no single dominant party in  the 297-member House  of Representatives when  it  met for the first time  after  the 2018  election.

The biggest  was the President’s  PDP-Laban  with  94 members.  Next  were three parties generally supportive of the administration—the Nacionallsta Party (NP) with 37 members, the Nationalist People’s Coalition  (NPC)  with 33, and the National  Unity  Party     (NUP)  with 28. There were two generally opposition parties – the Liberal Party (LP) with 18 House members and Lakas with five. There were many  elected by  small  organizations.  And  there were 60 party-list representatives.

President Duterte was asked  to  help  break the impasse  and he came up with a compromise agreement  — the first 15 months for Cayetano of the NP and the next 21 months for the  PDP-Laban’s Velasco.   The arrangement  went well  and sometime ago,  some congressmen began to  talk of continuing the present arrangement.

Last  Monday,  Speaker  Cayetano  said it may be up to President  Duterte.  He himself said he will focus on  pressing  House  needs this September and October, particularly  the national budget.

Ideally, the House  should  be  making its own decisions on its leadership. The President was asked to help  in 2018 because the leading parties in Congress could not agree by themselves.  He came up with a 15-21 compromise proposal  which  the House accepted.  And  the arrangement appears to  have worked well.

Should  the 15-21 compromise  continue now that its first  part  is ending?  That is all within the rights of the House to decide.  Ideally,  it should have been able to decide  right from the start, without  turning to  President  Duterte  for help. It  did  not speak well  of the the House  as an independent body under  the Constitution.

There is again talk of  asking President Duterte to step in. This might  be the realistic  thing to do, considering his overall strong leadership  and influence  over most  congressmen  and  their  constituents.

But even if only to pay tribute to the constitutional  principle  of separation of powers, that Congress  is an independent  body  like the  Executive and the Judiciary, we hope  the House of  Representatives  will be able to decide its own  leadership question  by itself.