Allies of Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco on Monday elected him speaker of the House of Representatives in a session branded "illegal" by the supporters of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.
The Velasco camp held the election at the Celebrity Sports Plaza in Quezon City, where 186 lawmakers, more than one half of the 299-seat chamber, voted to elect Velasco as speaker of the 18th Congress. At least 152 votes are required to get a majority vote in the House.
The 186 congressmen held the session outside the Batasan Complex because the plenary hall was closed due to the suspension of the session until Nov. 16.
Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza moved to declare vacant the position of speaker, which was up to that time held by Cayetano.
Velasco, who took his oath as speaker after his election, called on Cayetano to accept the “peaceful transition” of power in the House.
"With this compelling proof that has installed me as speaker of the House, I would like to extend my hand to Speaker Cayetano and hope that he would be amenable to sit down with me as we comply with the term-sharing agreement for a peaceful transition for the benefit of our members and the country," Velasco said.
In his speech, Velasco thanked the President and called him a "man of his word."
Velasco urged Cayetano to "step down quietly" from the speakership so that the House under his leadership could tackle the 2021 budget on Tuesday.
"We would want to hold out parang a healing hand to former Speaker Cayetano. Let's stop all this. The majority of Congress has spoken," the Marinduque solon said.
"We are asking him to step down quietly, peacefully nang sa gayon ay maumpisahan na namin ang pagdinig sa 2021 budget tomorrow," he added.
Velasco's supporters said the election fulfilled the supposed “gentleman's agreement” between the Marinduque congressman and Cayetano that was brokered by President Rodrigo Duterte in July 2019. Under that agreement, Cayetano was supposed to serve as speaker until September this year while
Velasco would hold the post in the remaining 21 months of the 18th Congress.
However, as September came, Cayetano was reluctant to honor the agreement and at one point even threatened to oust Velasco within two weeks of his assumption of the speakership.
Former Deputy Speaker Mikee Romero, Reps. Michael John Duavit of Rizal, Salvador Leachon of Oriental Mindoro, Kristine Singsong-Meehon of Ilocos Sur, Kiko Benitez of Negros Occidental, Divina Grace Yu of Zamboanga Del Sur, John Reynald Tiangco of Navotas, Joey Salceda of Albay and Esmael Mangudadatu of Maguindanao nominated Velasco as speaker.
Deputy Speaker Conrado Estrella III of Abono Party-list group presided over the session, while Pampanga Rep. Juan Pablo Bondoc served as majority leader.
The move to unseat Cayetano came after a manifesto of support to Velasco was circulated to the media late Sunday. At least 187 lawmakers signed the manifesto.
In their desire to unseat Cayetano, the lawmakers cited Section 13, Rule 3 of the Rules of the House of Representatives, and voted to declare the position of speaker vacant.
In his speech, Velasco did not hide his desire to assume the highest post in the House amid a pandemic.
"Why not? The true measure of leadership comes not when things are easy but especially when things are most difficult. Whether famine or feast, poverty or plenty, a leader will always rise to the challenge and respond to the call of service," he said.
"It has been a difficult journey to get to where we are. One fraught with many frustrations and complications. But then, we are all here. And this is a testament to our indomitable spirit and our collective commitment to honoring our word," he added.
Velasco also committed to pass laws that are "responsive to the needs of the Filipinos" even as he assured the "timely, legal and constitutional" approval of the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for next year.
Velasco meanwhile expressed gratitude to Duterte's children, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte and Deputy Speaker Paolo Duterte, as well as to Senator Christopher Go, a former top aide of the President.
Atienza on Monday took a swipe at Cayetano, who described the election of Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco as the new Speaker as fake.
“Those are the words of sore losers, an ousted leader,” he told the Manila Standard, referring to Deputy Speaker and Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali Gonzales II and Cayetano.
“How can you say that it was illegal when we did everything in accordance with the rules? Nag-ingat kami. We made sure that there is a clear majority,” he said.
“Congress is not their property. Congress is not for themselves (only). It is an institution of freedom and democracy,” Atienza added.
He blamed the camp of Cayetano for not obeying the rules when the Speaker suspended session on Oct. 6, 10 days earlier than Oct. 16, the date Congress was supposed to adjourn.
“That is a clear violation of the Constitution and the rules,” Atienza said.
“He (Cayetano) would lose his last ounce of credibility if he would do something to block (the new speakership),” he said, adding “he should learn to accept and be cooperative.”