Cayetano’s resignation move cheered, jeered

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House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 30) — Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza is among the 184 lawmakers who voted to keep Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano as House Speaker – but his vote was not a statement of support.

Atienza said Cayetano’s offer to resign during the House plenary session on Wednesday was ill-timed, even calling it “another version of telenovela of insincerity.”

“Hindi 'yun ang usapan kagabi sa Malacañang e. As he admitted, he agreed to resign on October 14 para maihanda niya 'yung turnover,” Atienza told CNN Philippines hours after the session. “Binigla niya ngayon after a melodramatic privilege speech.”

[Translation: That was not what was agreed upon in Malacañang. As he admitted, he agreed to resign on October 14 to prepare the turnover. But he abruptly did it after a melodramatic privilege speech.]

Atienza added that if Cayetano were sincere in prioritizing national interest, he would spend the next two weeks preparing Congress for the takeover of Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Jay Velasco.

Under the term-sharing agreement brokered by President Rodrigo Duterte in 2019, Cayetano was supposed to serve as Speaker for the first 15 months or until October this year. Velasco would then take over the post for the succeeding 21 months.

In his speech, Cayetano claimed that Velasco rejected the President’s appeals for the change in leadership to happen in December instead, to make way for the unhampered passage of the 2021 national budget.

Cayetano also confirmed telling Duterte that he’s ready to step down on October 14 to vacate the speakership as part of the deal.

“Mr. President, I will resign on October 14. Let me clarify, Mr. President, he (Velasco) needs to get the votes,” Cayetano recalled telling Duterte. He believes Velasco would not have enough votes to secure the speakership.

Wednesday's plenary session was a preview, House Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte, a Cayetano ally, said in a separate interview with CNN Philippines. The 184-1 vote with nine abstentions to reject Cayetano’s resignation showed “that we want Speaker Alan to continue to lead,” Villafuerte said.

He also echoed Cayetano’s argument that it’s hard to replace the House leader in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. And even if by some chance, Velasco gets elected, Villafuerte predicts it many not be for long. "He can be Speaker on October 23, November 23, then after a month, we're not happy, we can always vote him out."

Velasco lashed out at Cayetano’s speech. He described it as “further political maneuverings and theatrics," as the budget deliberations were put on hold.

“Instead of focusing on the work at hand, further political maneuverings and theatrics took the budget deliberations hostage,” said Velasco in a Facebook post on Wednesday. “We lost an entire day, and even tomorrow where you have declared that no session will be conducted, which are crucial in meeting our timeline.”

The chamber decided to suspend the budget deliberations until Friday morning.

Velasco called on his fellow lawmakers to keep working on the swift passage of the national budget for next year before Oct. 14.

“I call on my colleagues to continue our work and pass the budget on or before October 14," he said. "This is the commitment we’ve made before the President, and this is our responsibility to our constituents, to deliver to them a fair and equitable budget.”

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque told the state-run network PTV that he got a call from Duterte following the decision of the House to reject Cayetano’s resignation.

“Ang sabi po niya, stay out tayo diyan, no comment tayo diyan (He said we’ll stay out of that, we’ll give no comment). That's a purely internal affair of the House of Representatives,” Roque recalled.

Although the President wants the term-sharing agreement enforced, his hands are tied if the lawmakers themselves would vote against Velasco, Malacañang has said.