Key leaders of various political parties and blocs in the incoming 18th Congress assembled in Quezon City Wednesday to commit themselves to the speakership bid of Leyte Rep.-elect Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and to the legislative agenda of President Rodrigo Duterte.
READ: ‘Romualdez can boost Duterte’s economic plans’
The assembly was held at the Seda Hotel Vertis North in Quezon City.
This developed as Albay Rep. Joey Salceda hit threats to sanction lawmakers belonging to the ruling PDP-Laban who do not support Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco as the next Speaker.
Also, party-list lawmakers on Wednesday questioned 1-Pacman party-list Rep. Mikee Romero for endorsing Velasco as the next speaker without their consent.
Anakalusugan Party-list Rep.-elect Mike Defensor said Romero’s action was illegal, adding he even signed a controversial manifesto using his title as the Party-list Coalition Foundation Inc. (PCFI) president.
“This is what Congressman Mikee Romero did as president. If he only did it for his individual preference, there will be no problem. But to speak for the party-list bloc, it’s unfair to us. We have never talked about it. That’s illegal, and there was no basis for that,” he said.
“We would like, in clear terms, repudiate the representation of congressman Mikee Romero who said the party-list bloc has already decided for… Velasco. There was no such decision,” he said.
Apart from Romualdez and Velasco, Taguig City-Pateros Rep.-elect Alan Peter Cayetano is also aspiring to succeed outgoing Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
House Majority Leader and Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro said the event was the first in a series of caucuses that the coalition would want to hold to unite the political parties and other blocs in Congress toward the early passage of President Duterte’s priority bills.
“We have decided to cross party lines and band together to press for the speedy congressional approval of the President’s priority bills. A single party cannot do it alone. We need the support of everybody so Congress could help realize the President’s vision for the country,” he said.
Castro is the president of the National Unity Party.
“This is just the beginning, possibly the spark needed to unite the 18th Congress. In the coming days and weeks, other congressmen who already signed the manifesto of support for our speaker, Congressman Martin, would also come out in the open and join us in our gatherings. It is difficult to schedule a caucus of more than 180 congressmen in a single day,” he said.
Salceda, for his part, said the key leaders of the political parties and other blocs decided to hold the assembly to get a clearer picture of the reforms that Romualdez plans to implement in the 18th Congress.
“We are 100 percent behind Congressman Martin as speaker. We need to get his views on how to make the next Congress more effective in legislating the laws that are beneficial to our countrymen,” Salceda said.
Defensor said they have already signed a manifesto of support for Romualdez.
“Members of the party-list coalition agreed to vote as a bloc. Majority, however, that I have spoken to has already indicated their preference for Congressman Martin as speaker pending the possible endorsement of the President,” he said.
“If the election for speaker will be held today, Congressman Martin definitely has the numbers,” he added.
Romualdez is president of Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats and Philippine Constitution Association.
“Ours is a herculean task. We have to live up to the expectation of President Duterte and of our people. With the help of every member of the 18th Congress, I am confident that we can help deliver the promises of President Duterte to our people,” he said.
At least 38 new and incumbent lawmakers from different political parties participated in the caucus.
READ: Solon bets on Romualdez in speakership race
“The matter will still have to be decided on July 22, and I will be the last one to be presumptuous that I have more than the numbers to become the Speaker. But I am confident that we are a contender, a serious contender. And we will not stop working even beyond July 22, working with each and everyone here,” Romualdez said.
Romualdez said he wanted to run for the speakership so he could pay back to the lawmakers who had helped Leyte recover and rise from the aftermath of Typhoon “Yolanda” in 2013.
“This is may be my chance to serve and pay back those I owe. I will end my political life trying to pay back and to give back because they have helped us rise,” he added.
Romualdez shrugged off speculation that the leaders of the four major blocs in the House have signed a manifesto of support for Velasco.
“All I am talking about is [just] to make sure that we work together in unison,” he said.
Defensor said he feared the 54-strong PCFI would collapse over the incident.
Ako Bicol Party-list Rep. Alfredo Garbin said the foundation has not yet decided on who to support.
“As far as the coalition is concerned, we have not endorsed anyone,” he said.
“May be, he signed in his personal capacity but the same could not be attributed to the collective decision of the members,” he added.
Earlier, PDP-Laban spokesperson and political affairs head Ronwald Munsayac said in a statement, that “the PDP Laban leadership led by Senator [Aquilino] Pimentel [III] believes it is time to put emphasis and value to party discipline. Members of the PDP-Laban who will defy its choice for [speaker] will be sanctioned.”
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, said his Nationalist People’s Coalition has not decided who to support as Speaker.
“My political party has yet to decide and formally announce our support,” Sotto said.
On Tuesday, the President declined to endorse any of three PDP-Laban aspirants.
Duterte, the party’s national chairman, said he will no longer endorse a candidate in House speakership race and called on congressmen to sort out the matter among themselves.
READ: Rody leaves Speaker bet hanging
Speaking during the oath-taking of local officials affiliated with Hugpong ng Pagbabago in Malacañang, the President said he asked Arroyo to select her next successor, but the latter refused to have the final say.
On Wednesday, the Palace reiterated the President’s hands-off approach to the speakership race, saying it was optimistic that the lawmakers would select “the best and most competent” contender. With Nat Mariano and PNA