THE Liberal Party will have the most number of congressmen in the upcoming 17th Congress with about 130. How presumptive President-elect Rodrigo Duterte will deal with them and others in the House who didn’t support his presidential bid will show how serious he is in instituting reforms in government.
Almost all past Presidents had found it very easy to convince congressmen to join their political party. Just dangle carrots before them and they’ll become instant converts. Of course, they always justify turncoatism by saying that their loyalty to their party ends where their loyalty to the country begins. There’ll never be a mention of what Malacañang has offered them for turning their backs on their old masters. As the saying goes and which I often mention here, “If you want loyalty, buy a dog, not a politician.” (The outgoing President will realize this soon enough.)
Now, Duterte may not be severely criticized should he do as what his predecessors, especially BS Aquino The Last, had done in gaining the cooperation of congressmen—give them lots of “pork” under whatever name. After all, that’s practical politics. However, should he do so, he’ll be throwing out the window his avowals of reforming the system in government, like the patronage system or the “pork.”
The problem is, will the congressmen readily yield to the wishes of the President without demanding their pound of flesh? If they’ll make such demands, can the strong-willed Duterte ignore them and risk inevitable clash with the legislators?
My prediction is that Duterte, who knows the SOP in the House having served one term there, won’t blaze new trails in converting most of the congressmen into his die-hard followers. No, he won’t, he can’t abolish Congress even if he’s inclined to. He has no constitutional power to do so, and he’ll be pledging to obey the Constitution. However, he can make the House a virtual adjunct of Malacañang like most past Presidents had done. Then, nothing will distinguish him from his predecessors insofar as dealing with congressmen is concerned.
The speakership fight
With their big number, Liberal congressmen will have a big say on who’ll be the Speaker of the 17th Congress. Speaker Sonny Belmonte is expected to try to retain his seat but he’ll have to coalesce with other political parties. That’s a tall order, as many Liberals are certain to be turncoats.
But assuming that the Liberals will surprisingly remain loyal to their party, many might want the next Speaker to come from the Visayas or Mindanao. In such a case, Rep. Raul del Mar, of Cebu City, might want to make a stab for the post. Del Mar is probably the most senior among the incoming congressmen. Of the 10 congresses since 1987, Del Mar will be serving his eighth in the 17th Congress. He might want to be the second Speaker from the South, after Speaker Prospero Nograles, of Davao City, who unseated Speaker Jose de Venecia in the 14th Congress after JDV had a falling out with then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
The case of JDV graphically illustrates the political truism that no congressman can be the Speaker without the blessings of Malacañang. Congressman-elect Pantaleon Alvarez, of Davao del Norte, is banking on his closeness to Duterte as his passport to the speakership.
Alvarez, the secretary-general of PDP-Laban, Duterte’s party, is a former congressman and former transportation secretary under President Erap. Alvarez has a lot of scrambling to do without help from Malacañang, as PDP-Laban has only about three members in the House.
There’ll be a number of power blocs in the House, not necessarily party-based, to give some leaders bargaining chips in getting key positions and committee assignments. Malacañang and those aspiring for the speakership must successfully negotiate with these power blocs to win the post.
So, is it déjà vu all over again?
Oh yes, I want to congratulate Gov. Oging Mercado of Southern Leyte for regaining his seat in the House without any sweat. Oging is a Liberal but I won’t be surprised if he supported Duterte, who traces his roots to Maasin, Southern Leyte. It’s also not surprising that Oging categorically declared his support for Sen. Bongbong Marcos in the vice-presidential race.
In the 1992 elections, then-presidential candidate Imelda Marcos backed Oging against Rosette Lerias, daughter of former Batasan Speaker Nicanor Yñiquez. This was her revenge against Yñiguez for supporting Danding Cojuangco instead of her in that election. Oging won but he and Rosette Lerias later reconciled, only to field rival candidates much later. Ah, but that’s politics, Philippine-style.