Velasco sworn in as Speaker, offers to settle dispute with Cayetano

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 12) — Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco took his oath Monday after his allies from different parties joined forces, electing him as leader of the House of Representatives and booting out his rival, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.

Cayetano rejected Velasco's election, saying what was held was a fake and illegal session.

In a gathering of more than a hundred congressmen at the Celebrity Sports Plaza in Quezon City, BUHAY Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza moved to declare the speakership vacant and called for a nominal voting to elect a new leader.

After several lawmakers nominated him, 186 congressmen voted for Velasco to take over the post, Deputy Speaker Conrado Estrella announced at the gathering.

Velasco then took his oath and thanked his allies, as well as President Rodrigo Duterte, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, and Deputy Speaker Paolo Duterte for their support.

"This can only happen in the age of Duterte, when anything is possible for the benefit of the Filipino people," Velasco said, calling himself a "probinsyano" lawmaker from what he described as the small province of Marinduque.

He also called on Cayetano to finally settle their dispute, following his election.

"With this compelling proof that has installed me as Speaker of the House, I would like to extend my hand to Speaker [Alan Peter] Cayetano and hope that he would be amenable to sit down with me as we comply with the agreement for a peaceful transition for the benefit of our members and the country."

Lawmakers also elected Atty. Jocelia Bighani Sipin as new House Secretary General and former PNP Aviation Security Group director Ma-O Aplasca as Sergeant-at-Arms.

Earlier in the day, a manifesto of "solid majority" of House members circulated to the media expressing their support for Velasco. A total of 187 lawmakers were part of the manifesto, with at least 162 signatures secured.

Prior to the gathering, Mayor Duterte confirmed that Velasco sought her help on Friday as chairperson of political alliance Hugpong ng Pagbabago, regarding the votes of lawmakers from Davao region.

In 2018, Mayor Duterte also had a significant role behind the controversial ouster of former House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez during the 17th Congress following a rift between the two. Then Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took over the post, just hours before President Duterte held his third State of the Nation Address.

'Fake' session

Meanwhile, Cayetano denied the legality of the gathering, as it was not held at the Batasang Pambansa Complex.

"If valid iyon, 'banana republic' na tayo. Never in the history of the Philippines na ganito ang ginagawang pambababoy sa Kongreso."

[Translation: If that gathering was valid, then we should be under a banana republic. Never in the history of the Philippines has the image of Congress been tarnished to this degree.]

Cayetano's office also issued a separate manifesto signed by 200 lawmakers urging Velasco to "respect the collective desire of his peers" to extend Cayetano's term.

Allies of Cayetano on Sunday stressed that the "budget will be prioritized over politics" to ensure the timely passage of the 2021 General Appropriations Bill. They added that calling for a session earlier than scheduled is deemed "illegal" if the plenary is closed.

In the pro-Velasco gathering, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez insisted that they were holding a valid session, despite claims that they were not using an official mace as "symbol of authority of the House." They can also resume session if there is a quorum, he added.

Cayetano last week abruptly suspended the House session ahead of the October 17 schedule after the national budget was approved on second reading. It was a step seen to thwart plenary voting to elect Velasco on the 14th, as stipulated in their term-sharing deal earlier brokered by President Duterte.

A separate special session will be held tomorrow until Friday after Duterte issued a proclamation on October 9 calling Congress to a special session on October 13 to 16.

Change of mind

There were 184 lawmakers who rejected Cayetano’s resignation as House Speaker last week. But Velasco’s ally Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said that there could be a shift of support, which explains the 186 lawmakers who voted in favor of Velasco.

“There must be some people who changed their mind,” said Salceda in an interview with CNN Philippines.

He added that Cayetano’s move to suspend the sessions until November “triggered” allies of Velasco to join forces.

“After the suspension, that triggered really what essentially happened today,” said Salceda.

Meanwhile, Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, Jr., a supporter of Cayetano, said that the only way to confirm the numbers of Cayetano and Velasco is through a nominal voting at the plenary.

“Talagang malalaman lang natin kung sino ang iboboto ng bawat kongresista, kung magkakaroon tayo ng botohan sa plenaryo. Tuwing magkakaroon ng botohan sa speaker, ito ang tinatawag nating nominal voting,” he told CNN Philippines.

[Translation: We would only know who would be voted by each congressman, if we would have a voting in the plenary. Whenever we vote for a speaker, we do it via nominal voting.]

He added, “That's the rule. We cannot rely on the allegations of both camps. Kasi ang nangyayari na rito ay political warfare (Because what’s happening here is a political warfare).”

For his part, political analyst Dindo Manhit also shared the same sentiment of conducting an election at the plenary to settle the issue.

"It's also good to have a session in the plenary hall of Batasan or House of Representatives...Who gets the majority, will be the speaker of the House," he told CNN Philippines. "My understanding is that the request of President Duterte is that they settle the budget first before the politics of the House of Representatives."

Of the 299 House members, Velasco only needs a simple majority of at least 151 votes to take over as Speaker.

However, both Salceda and Barzaga said that the speakership row must be set aside first during the four-day special session.

“Everybody, of course, must follow what the special session is for? Which is to approve the budget,” said Salceda.

“Kung talagang kaming lahat ay sumusuporta sa ating Pangulo, tapusin muna natin ang budget bago natin pag-usapan ang issue regarding speakership,” said Barzaga.

CNN Philippines' Xianne Arcangel, Glee Jalea, and Vince Ferreras contributed to this report.