AT the oath-taking ceremony of Pampanga congressman Aurelio "Dong" Gonzales Jr. as Senior Deputy Speaker of the House, Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez took the hand of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, whom he had removed from that very same post on May 17 for allegedly trying to organize a "coup" against him, and touched it to his forehead in a token gesture of ancestral respect.

It was a custom many of us grew up in, and to this day young people in my old village do it whenever they greet their elders and grandparents. But it was the first time I saw it enacted in Congress. Although Romualdez had been GMA's mentee long before he became speaker, I found something unreal about it. A few days earlier, Romualdez had accused GMA of "destabilizing" his leadership and punished her for it. Now on their first public appearance after that incident, he tried to give the impression that they had already buried the hatchet.

As far as I know, they have buried nothing. The oath-taking of the new Senior Deputy Speaker was the best proof of it. All that has happened is that GMA has tried to downplay everything, making it appear that the speaker did not really know the full impact of what he was doing, but that she was ready to take it as par for the course, without any resentment.

What is beyond doubt though is that GMA's demotion from senior deputy speaker to mere "deputy speaker" and Vice President Sara Duterte's May 19 sympathy resignation from the Lakas-CMD ruling party have created a new power bloc within the administration composed of GMA, Sara Duterte, and Sen. Maria Imelda Josefa "Imee" Marcos, the president's elder sister and chairperson of the Senate committee on foreign relations, who has expressed complete solidarity with the vice president.

One could write the acronym for this bloc as DAM (for Duterte, Arroyo, Marcos) or MAD (for Marcos, Arroyo, Duterte); either way we are seeing the birth of a new and formidable political force under these three women leaders. The last time these three women worked together (before the last elections) was during the 17th Congress when they brought down Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez from the speakership. It was quite an achievement.

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President Rodrigo Duterte, the first Filipino president from Mindanao, had installed Alvarez as Speaker because he came from Davao, just as he made Sen. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel 3rd the Senate president because he came from Cagayan de Oro, Misamis Oriental. Although it is a clear violation of the doctrine of checks and balances and separation of powers, everyone considered it (and still considers it ) the president's prerogative to anoint the leaders of the two houses of Congress. GMA was already in the House then, Sara was still mayor of Davao City, and Imee Marcos was governor of Ilocos Norte; but all three found common ground in denouncing Alvarez who had begun to repeat the profanities of President Duterte without exhibiting any of his redeeming qualities. He turned out to be a loose cannon.

On July 23, 2018, Alvarez was removed and GMA installed as the first female Speaker of the House. She served a highly exciting and productive term.

As of now, GMA has disavowed all interest in the position. But having already paid the price for her suspected and misreported interest in the job, could she not be persuaded by her colleagues and by Sara Duterte herself to reconsider her position? Since GMA has no quarrel with the President and her support for him remains unquestionably firm, shouldn't she be able to take the House leadership, if offered to her, with a clear conscience?

What is at stake here is not just the speakership between now and 2025. What is at stake here is the presidency in 2028, after Bongbong Marcos' (BBM's) term expires. Most political analysts believe it's going to be a fight between Sara Duterte, who polled 32.2 million votes in the last elections, and Romualdez whom analysts believe will use the speakership to cement his "right" to run for president.

Thus he sits next to BBM even in meetings that do not directly concern the legislature, despite the principle of checks and balances and the separation of powers. He is also believed to have the biggest war chest among those interested, having access to virtually unlimited funds in public works projects, aside from having vast resources of his own.

This puts Imee Marcos in a quandary. She cannot possibly support any attempt to replace Romualdez for obvious reasons (she is his elder first cousin); but the DAM or MAD political bloc, minus her, might find it necessary to want to control the House as part of its effort to seek the presidency later. Even if Imee Marcos does not support this effort, she will eventually find herself drawn into the final conflict. In fact, she might find herself locked in with Inday Sara should the latter decide to offer her the vice presidency in a Duterte-Marcos tandem.

Yet the real game has hardly begun, say some highly informed observers. Certain unexpected developments could drastically change the political landscape before December, and nullify all previous predictions. We do not know what that means, but that's when, they say, the cookie really crumbles.

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