Pulong Duterte steps back from House speakership tussle

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 8) — Presidential son and Deputy Speaker Paolo “Pulong” Duterte has refused to take sides as the power struggle between Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Speaker-in-waiting Lord Allan Velasco continues in the lower chamber.

In a statement on Thursday, Duterte took a neutral stance on the ongoing tussle between the two camps, noting that he is “all for a unified House.” He even emphasized the “friendships” he formed in the 18th Congress, with Cayetano and Velasco among those whom he “treasured most.”

“As I am all for a unified House, and given the value I place in every member of Congress, I refuse to make any statement that will favor or damage either of my two good friends who are both asserting their right to be our Speaker.”

Duterte explained that with a term-sharing agreement forged by his father, Velasco has the right to assert his claim to the post. He also acknowledged that a “considerable number of colleagues” still support Cayetano in the House.

“If and when the day comes that we are called to select the leader of this House, I hope we vote for someone who is committed, who understands what we want to achieve for ou constituents, and who can fight for and with us, and unify the 300 members of this House of Representatives despite our many differences,” he said.

A few weeks ago, there were speculations of a brewing House shakeup to stage a coup d'etat against Cayetano, based on a message that Duterte sent to a fellow lawmaker. In that message, Duterte warned that he will declare the speakership and deputy speakership posts vacant following the concerns of some colleagues over "inequitable" budget allocations in their districts.

However, no coup took place in the succeeding days.

‘Honor the term-sharing deal’

In an interview with CNN Philippines’ The Source on Thursday, AAMBIS-OWA Party-list Rep. Sharon Garin reiterated that both congressmen should just honor their “gentleman’s agreement,” a condition which President Rodrigo Duterte himself would have wanted in the first place.

Garin, a Velasco ally, also insisted that the Speaker-in-waiting has “more than the majority” of votes come October 16, but Cayetano’s camp claims otherwise.

She added that the President did not emphasize the need to gather a significant number of votes when he brokered the deal last year, and when he met with both camps in the past days.

“He did not say that last Monday, nor two weeks ago in Malacanang. Walang kondisyon po sa 15-21 na iyan. Even when they signed the agreement or how they sealed the deal last year, wala ring condition,” she said. “The agreement was simple, dalawa kayo, para di na magulo, sharing na lang kayo. Gentleman’s agreement.”

[Translation: President Duterte did not say that last Monday, nor two weeks ago in Malacanang. No such conditions were necessary in that 15-21 deal. Even when they signed the agreement or how they sealed the deal last year, there was no such condition. The agreement was simple. Since there is the two of you, just so we can fix this, share the term. Gentleman’s agreement.]

Session is currently suspended in the House until November 16 after Cayetano moved Tuesday to terminate debates on the 2021 budget.