Bringing the House up to speed

Bringing the House up to speed"Stable leadership is what the body badly needs at this point."



Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco became Speaker of the House of Representatives last October 13 with the support of 186 out of its 300 members, effectively ousting Taguig Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano who had led it for 15 months since July 2019.

Getting enough warm bodies to support his bid to lead the House may have been the easy part. Getting the entire Lower Chamber to work as one and craft legislation that would truly benefit the entire nation could prove to be the more difficult hurdle.

But let’s tackle Velasco’s numbers first. While a simple majority of 300 House members is necessary for a new Speaker to be elected, it’s not really clear who voted for him. We’ve been informed that during the House session on October 13, what the Velasco camp conducted was a roll call and not an actual vote. Media reported that the congressmen present conducted a nominal vote, which is required for the election of a Speaker, but it appears there is no actual list or record of the vote whatsoever. There were two roll calls, at the end of which it was announced that 186 House members had voted for Velasco.

The question that’s being raised now is this: Who actually voted for Velasco? Where is the missing plenary vote? I watched part of the proceedings on television, and what I saw were representatives of various blocs going up the rostrum to indicate support for Velasco.

The House should really tell the public who really voted for Velasco, as this would give us an idea of the balance of political forces there at present. If Velasco garnered only 186 votes, what about the rest of the 300 members, or a total of 114 congressmen? Where do they stand? Is this big bloc of lawmakers willing to work with Velasco? We really don’t know at this point.

If they are opposed to Velasco’s leadership, then we have an unstable situation in Congress that doesn’t augur well for lawmaking in the last 21 months of this administration.

Velasco has to bring about the unity and stability that Congress badly needs at this time.

He should continue the stable leadership shown by the House after they elected Taguig Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano in July 2019. We recall that time as a contentious one as various political parties and personalities vied for the Speakership. In the end, the matter had to be brought to President Duterte, who brokered a term-sharing agreement between Cayetano and Velasco. With the endorsement from the President himself, Cayetano earned the vote of his peers.

By the end of 2019, the House under Cayetano’s leadership found itself in unfamiliar terrain as a Pulse Asia survey showed it had garnered a trust rating of 66 percent, a six-percent increase over its rating just three months prior. Cayetano himself emerged as the third most trusted official in the government, garnering a trust rating of 76 percent during that period, or an increase of 14 percentage points from his 62 percent rating in September. It was a sea change for the House, given the long-standing perception that it was a “den of thieves.” With Cayetano at the helm, the House, people’s perceptions of the House changed for the better. And as it would turn out, the high level of trust would prove invaluable this year as the country was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. With lives and livelihoods imperiled, the government needed to allocate the necessary amounts to provide for testing, treatment, relief, and other interventions. Congress rose to the occasion by passing the P275-billion Bayanihan to Heal as One Act and then the P265-billion Bayanihan to Recover As One Act (commonly called Bayanihan 1 and 2) in record time, with Cayetano making sure all available technologies are utilized so that House members could still tackle the two bills while the country was on lockdown.

While Cayetano managed to keep the House on even keel during his watch, Velasco opted to keep a very low profile. He was, critics claimed, an absentee congressman, missing many sessions and not participating in committee hearings. He seemed smug in the term-sharing deal, apparently not realizing that while it was struck between him and Cayetano, he still needed to secure the vote of the House members.

As one-half of the legislative branch of government, the House of Representatives is supposed to be independent and co-equal with the executive and judicial branches. While it should work closely with the executive branch, it should not be a mere rubber-stamp body nor allow itself to be totally under the thumb of Malacañang. That’s what the separation of powers means, if I still remember my Political Science 11 correctly.

The House is composed of 300 members from different parties, backgrounds and level of competence. Velasco must be able to demonstrate that he can unite the entire institution toward responsible and dynamic lawmaking, rather than relying solely on his perceived closeness to the First Family to get things done.

Stable leadership is what the House badly needs at this point. Can Velasco hack it and bring it up to speed?

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Topics: Lord Allan Velasco , Speakership , House of Representatives , Alan Peter Cayetano
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