A picture is worth 186 House votes

By: Segundo Eclar Romero - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | October 16,2020 - 09:00 AM

President Duterte’s enigmatic political partnership with his daughter Mayor Sara Duterte, 42, to whom he has entrusted the mayorship of Davao City, has lent considerable influence to the presidential daughter, which plays out every now and then in Philippine politics.

Sara takes divergent paths from those of her father. In the last 2019 senatorial elections, she put up and actively campaigned for a different slate of candidates for the Senate under her own Hugpong ng Pagbabago Party, leading many political observers to conclude that she was already preparing her run for the presidency in 2022. President Duterte allowed her to do as she pleased.

The clout of Sara is best demonstrated in the way she caused the fall of Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez from the speakership of the House of Representatives in 2018, shoehorning Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in his place. This may not have been too much of an eyebrow-raiser, as Alvarez had managed in a short period of time to alienate a lot of powerful people and the public because of his arrogance. And he was replaced by no less than a somewhat tarnished former president of the republic.

The recent ejection of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano is a much more forceful display of Sara power. Remember that Cayetano, at 49, is a battle-scarred veteran of the Philippine political arena, a major player in the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona, insinuating himself and running with Mr. Duterte as vice president despite being an outsider to Mr. Duterte’s circle, losing and then resigning from the Senate to become foreign secretary, and resigning again to become Speaker of the House, closer to the center of political combat. According to Cayetano, this was not a unilateral move on his part but an agreement with President Duterte, which could explain why Cayetano feels aggrieved.

Who is Rep. Lord Allan Velasco? At 42, he has distinguished himself, at best, in provincial politics in Marinduque. He is like a pawn that was moved in successive steps by Sara to stalk and capture an opposing bishop. Except that that bishop was her father’s bishop.

The term-sharing agreement in June 2019 was the first move. The vote of confidence was Cayetano’s intervening move. The events of the last week were the second move. All it took was an innocent-looking picture of Velasco having dinner with Sara last Friday, Oct. 9, to make things move. That picture did it, causing the cascade of 186 House dominoes to fall the way of Velasco, after they had previously leaned Cayetano’s way. Mr. Duterte had been tongue-tied the whole time, unable to make a definitive public endorsement of who should be Speaker.

Sara is more articulate in explaining her moves. In the case of Alvarez, she called him “a very dangerous, Machiavellian individual who does not deserve peace.” In the case of Cayetano, she said he not only did not seek Sara’s endorsement in June 2019, but also that he issued a “veiled threat” that if Sara “endorse[s] Rep. Velasco for Speaker, I would break up the ‘group.’ And this, he said, will affect the presidential election of 2022.”

Perhaps the events of the past week have made it clear to Cayetano that he has not been part of “the group” in the first place. In the same way, he claims he mistook Mr. Duterte’s decision about how the term-sharing should proceed between him and Velasco. But it does not look that way, looking at the deliberately defiant actions he took to tie the hands of the President with a preemptive vote of confidence in the House.

Did Cayetano really think he was part of the group? He seemed to assume that, or pretended he did. Well, Mr. Duterte better give him something of political value soon, or he might insinuate himself in some corner in the opposition this time to prepare for political opportunities in the next administration. This is the best time for Cayetano to reinvent himself as a politician.

As for Sara, it is premature to think her ability to bring down two successive Speakers translates into equity for the next presidency. So far, it’s been a nihilistic display of power. She demonstrated that she is an efficacious steel flyswatter for pesky arrogant politicians, but not the patriotic problem-solver her father hopes would deliver on his failed promises.

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