"He was dead wrong because the unexpected did happen."
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque almost succeeded in painting his boss, President Duterte, into a corner on the House speakership row, until the unexpected happened, i.e, the coup pulled by majority of the congressmen to oust the current Speaker, Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano.
Reading between the lines of Roque’s statements on the speakership issue, it is unmistakable that he was lawyering for Cayetano—in stark contrast with his pronouncements that Malacañang is keeping a hands-off policy on the selection process. We only have to look at the fine print to see where he stands on the issue. Talk about neutrality.
If memory serves, Roque was legal counsel of former Marinduque congresswoman Regina Ongsiako-Reyes who was Lord Allan Jay Velasco’s opponent in the 2013 congressional race in Marinduque. Reyes won the balloting, but the Comelec disqualified her for being a United States citizen.
Then Speaker Feliciano Belmonte defied a Supreme Court decision to unseat Reyes and install Velasco as Marinduque’s representative. But the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal eventually upheld the Comelec decision, and affirmed the High Court ruling favoring Velasco.
Didn’t Roque know that under the Constitution, non-Filipinos are barred from holding elective positions in the Philippines? Or, being a lawyer, did he ignore with crass expediency this proviso for his personal aggrandizement? After all, isn’t that what lawyers are for – to interpret the law in any which way to make the guilty not guilty, and vice versa?
Anyway, Lord Allan Jay, son of incumbent Marinduque Governor and retired SC Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., subsequently took his seat at the House in February 2016, shortly before the next elections.
Fast forward to the just-ended speakership dispute. Recall that earlier on, Roque dropped broad hints that he stands behind Cayetano. He said the battle royale for leadership in the House of Representatives was over with Cayetano virtually holding on to the top post after the majority of the legislators roundly rejected his offer to voluntarily step down and give way to a transition in favor of Velasco.
Cayetano and his allies bragged they had the numbers to disregard the term-sharing deal, also called gentlemen’s agreement between Velasco and Cayetano, brokered by President Duterte himself. The Cayetano faction in the House falsely claimed they had the numbers to do just that.
Meanwhile, Roque was delivering the message in no uncertain terms, but without solid evidence to support the claim that Cayetano’s continued speakership during the 18th Congress is a done deal.
Roque and like-minded members of the House translated that repudiation of Cayetano’s resignation bid as a “vote of confidence” in his stewardship.
Encouraged by such a vote of confidence, Cayetano, his wife Lani and sister Sen. Pia Cayetano, marched to Malacanang to pay tribute to the President, and perchance ask for his blessing.
Reacting on the call by the Cayetanos, Roque crowed that the President is abiding by any decision the House would make on the speakership issue—with tacit referral to Cayetano.
Implicitly, Roque said “Ok, the House has spoken, Cayetano stays on as Speaker.” Or words to that effect.
Roque asserted that President Duterte’s hands were tied insofar as the House decision on the issue is concerned. Duterte has repeatedly vowed to stay neutral in the speakership fight between Cayetano and Velasco.
Roque was obviously going overboard and appeared to be putting words into the President’s mouth. He was no longer doing his job as spokesman, or a mouthpiece of the President. He was uttering his own policy statements that could be attributed to the President.
Earlier on, the Chief Executive had indicated he wanted both men to have a fair shake, and brokered the so-called “gentlemen’s agreement” where Cayetano would have the first shot for 15 months, and Velasco succeeding him for the remaining 21 months of their tenure.
With the deadline nearing, Cayetano exerted no efforts to conceal his desire to hold on to power, in effect tossing out their covenant forged in July last year.
Roque exalted Cayetano, saying the Taguig-Pateros lawmaker made a “very astute political move" by rushing the passage of the 2021 national budget and foiling a plan to unseat him.
It turned out Roque was dead wrong because the unexpected did happen.
It appeared that most of the congressmen believed that a “gentlemen’s agreement” is worth fighting for. They showed that they deserved to be called “honorable” men and women whose words can be trusted.
So it came to pass that during an emergency meeting at the Celebrity Sports Club in Quezon City on (October 12), 186 pro-Velasco solons made a show of force and declared the Marinduque representative as the new Speaker of the 18th Congress.
That put the shoe on the other foot. It was now Cayetano’s turn to cry foul, saying the majority decision was “fake and therefore illegal,” having been done outside the august halls of Congress.
But the following day, Velasco’s peers ratified his election as their new Speaker during a special at the Batasang Pambansa, followed by his oath-taking.
That officially ended Cayetano’s reign as House leader. He offered his resignation through social media. Going by his own pronouncements, his resignation wasn’t made within the halls of Congress, so do we also call his farewell address bid fake? Just kidding, I suppose.
Meanwhile, Roque, who must have been shocked by the turn of events, dished out motherhood statements like; “Malacanang (meaning President Duterte) respects the House decision.”
Roque said with Velasco as the new Speaker, his boss was “very optimistic” about the timely passage of the national budget.
"We look forward to working with Speaker Lord Allan Velasco because he is also a very close ally of this administration and I think the full cooperation between the executive and Congress will continue under his leadership." Roque told reporters.
"We thank the members of the House of Representatives because they heard the request of the President to set aside politics and pass the anti-COVID budget for the year 2021. Now the President is very optimistic that the budget will be passed because politics has been set aside." That was Roque, in an obvious turnaround.
Asked if Duterte had a hand in Velasco’s election as Speaker, Roque simply said, "not the President."
You guessed right, he had no words of praise for Velasco.