Duterte ‘resolves’ Speakership race, but is that constitutional?

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has decided – and announced himself –  that congressmen Alan Peter Cayetano and Lord Allan Velasco will be House Speakers in a term-sharing scheme. 

Cayetano gets to sit as Speaker first, then Velasco.

"Your Speaker will be Alan Peter Cayetano. He shares the term with Lord Velasco," said Duterte on Monday, July 8, during the oath-taking of new presidential appointees.

Former Supreme Court spokesperson and law professor Ted Te pointed out that Duterte's actions violate Section 16 (1), Article VI, of the Constitution.

That provision says, "The Senate shall elect its President, and the House of Representatives its Speaker, by a majority vote of all its respective Members."

Malacañang later announced that the 3rd aspirant for Speaker, Leyte 1st District Representative Martin Romualdez, would become Majority Floor Leader.

The Majority Floor Leader shall also be elected by the House members, according to the same provision of the Constitution.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Duterte tried to "keep his distance" from the speakership race, but that leading contenders for House Speaker and other lawmakers persistently pressed him to make a choice.

"He’s not obligated to make a choice; the Constitution vests the choice in the members of the two houses not on anyone else. That’s what separation of powers means," said Te.

How a Speaker is elected

It is not uncommon for the House to elect a Speaker who has the blessings of the President. 

On July 22, the House will officially elect its Speaker before Duterte delivers his State of the Nation Address (SONA).

Te said that when the House officially elects Cayetano and Velasco, "would you really believe it wasn’t because of the announcement today?”

Law professor Tony La Viña said Duterte's endorsement is "not really" a violation of Article VI.

"Not really. They can defy him, but not likely to happen since they asked him to decide," La Viña said.

The House Speaker is elected via nominal voting in plenary, which is how Davao del Norte, 1st District Pantaleon Alvarez, was chosen as Speaker at the start of the Duterte administration.

In a dramatic takeover in Duterte's 2018 SONA, Pampanga 2nd District Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo became Speaker. The takeover was supported by a manifesto calling for Alvarez' removal. An all-member caucus was also held morning of the SONA, which gave a semblance that voting had taken place.

Also by way of a manifesto, 4 major blocs of the House expressed support for Velasco's speakership bidPartido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), the party-list coalition, and the Northern Luzon Alliance.

Pampanga 4th District Representative Juan Pablo Bondoc, a PDP-Laban member, had pointed out that 4 blocs comprise “about 180” lawmakers, which is more than the 50% + 1 votes needed by a speakership candidate to win.

In the end, it was Duterte who got to decide.

In a comment, PDP-Laban president Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said Duterte resolving the dispute was "great."

"We made our own term-sharing proposal in order to resolve the issue of House Speaker. But if the president himself has resolved the issue, then great!" Pimentel said.

Term-sharing is not found on the House of Representatives internal rules. 

The race for Speakership was tense, at one point even presidential son, Davao City 1st District Representative Paolo Duterte, joined in.

In the end, Paolo said he and his father "agreed that this will not be the right time for me to be Speaker." – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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