ASEAN Beat | Politics | Southeast Asia

Philippine House Speaker Squabble Ends, Clearing Way for Budget Deliberations

A disagreement over a term-sharing plan led to a standoff between two rivals for the House speaker position that almost turned ugly.

Nick Aspinwall
Philippine House Speaker Squabble Ends, Clearing Way for Budget Deliberations

Alan Peter Cayetano, then Foreign Secretary of the Philippines, on a trip to Moscow on May 15, 2018.

Credit: Flickr/Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation

A dramatic political standoff came to an end when Philippines House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano resigned on October 13 via Facebook Live, minutes after legislators confirmed the election of rival Rep. Lord Allan Velasco as speaker.

Cayetano and Velasco jostled for the speakership as the Philippines scrambled to pass next year’s national budget, vital for reviving the country’s flailing economy and directing funds to combat the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“I am tendering my irrevocable resignation as the speaker of the House of the Republic of the Philippines,” Cayetano said in a video from his neighborhood in Taguig. “At 3 p.m., elect your new speaker and pass the budget.”

The previous day, Velasco’s supporters had held an election in a sports club outside the House of Representatives to confirm the speakership vacant and to elect Velasco to the position. Cayetano called this illegal and insisted he still had enough votes to support his speakership.

But 186 representatives out of 299 House members voted to elect Velasco speaker on October 12, dampening Cayetano’s designs of clinging to power long enough to see through the 2021 budget.

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Cayetano agreed in 2019 to make way for Velasco after 15 months in power as part of a term-sharing agreement forged by President Rodrigo Duterte, who counts both representatives as allies.

But Cayetano overstayed his time as Speaker and, last week, suspended plenary sessions until mid-November after moving to pass the 2021 budget on second reading, raising concerns its passage would be delayed.

Cayetano on Tuesday claimed this was due to a misunderstanding that the agreement would allow him to push through the 2021 budget.

Velasco, a member of Duterte’s ruling PDP-Laban party, pushed for the speakership last year with the support of much of the House before Duterte brokered the agreement.

Cayetano was Duterte’s running mate in 2016 but lost that election, which allows voters to split their tickets, to current Vice President Leni Robredo, a critic of Duterte.

Duterte then promised the speakership to Cayetano, to be followed by Velasco, raising the possibility of an eventual power struggle.

After Velasco’s election on October 12, the possibility grew that the two legislators could hold competing sessions the following day and deepen the conflict, although Cayetano’s resignation brought it all to an end.

Duterte had called a special session on October 13 after last week ordering the House to resolve its speakership controversy in order to pass the 2021 budget.

Velasco claimed last week Duterte had said he felt “duped” by Cayetano for neglecting the term-sharing agreement that would have seen him step down.

On October 14, Duterte’s spokesperson told CNN Philippines that the president would accept an apology from Cayetano over a “misunderstanding” in the term-sharing arrangement.

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The standoff revealed fissures within Duterte’s network of political alliances and likely led to the end of Cayetano’s ambitions to succeed Duterte in the 2022 presidential election.

In September, Paolo Duterte, the deputy speaker and president’s son, threatened to oust Cayetano after lawmakers in the southern Visayas region complained their districts were not receiving equitable shares of the 2021 budget.

The previous week, two allies of Cayetano and Velasco stooped to homophobic insults in a war of words in a House Viber group after a heated disagreement over the budget.

After Velasco succeeded Cayetano on October 13, the pair met Duterte and agreed to work together to pass the budget.