REPRESENTATIVE Pantaleon Alvarez, the House Speaker, was welcoming the president who just arrived by helicopter to deliver his 3rd State of the Nation Address (SONA) in Batasang Pambansa on Monday afternoon when the young Rep. Dennis Laogan administered the oath of office for House Speakership to Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. This is Philippine politics at its best and worst.
July 23rd would have been remembered as the 3rd Sona of Duterte but Filipinos will remember it better by the power play in the Lower Congress installing GMA as the new House Speaker. No, our dear representatives could not wait for another session as if it was a matter of life and death. The time must be at that moment regardless if it was Sona time.
The mace - a symbol of authority indicating that the Congress is in session was not there so the so called session and anything that happened during that session was deemed unofficial. Yet to make it official, the congress had to convene after the Sona so GMA could take the speakership officially. And the oath was pronounced and hours after the Sona we have a new House Speaker.
The Sona centered on the fight on drugs, defending the Train Law, defending our sovereignty, and the Bangsamoro Organic Law. President Duterte did not include his usual rhetoric full of colorful words. This did not stop the estimated 40,000 protesters to rally on the street condemning the governance of the president. These events nevertheless were overshadowed by the Lower Congress.
Organizer of the coup in Congress was quick to respond that the ouster of Alvarez was triggered by issues and concerns which contradict their ideals such as the proposed no midterm election, the zero budget for lawmakers who did support federalism, and his stand on same-sex marriage.
The people, however, know that the reasons are personal.
On his first year as House Speaker, he had a quarrel with one of the biggest donors in Duterte’s 2016 campaign, Rep. Antonio Florendo Jr. Words of replacing Alvarez as house speaker began to swirl. There was the issue on the death penalty where Alvarez strongly pushed for its passage.
The real issue there was not the position of Alvarez on death penalty but it was his move to remove representatives from their posts who did not support the bill. Gloria Arroyo was one of them.
Known as a Duterte ally and still considered a big name in politics, Arroyo was removed as deputy speaker by no less than Alvarez. It was not a big dispute for the people knowing the strong character that Alvarez tries to impose but for some members of congress especially for GMA and her allies, the decision was offensive.
Finally, earlier this year, Alvarez called Inday Sara, the presidential daughter and incumbent mayor of Davao City, part of the opposition after she allegedly formed a separate regional political party. The mayor retaliated and called on to challenge Alvarez. This was the rallying point of the ouster plan. The president must have felt Alvarez was trespassing a private property. Both loyal followers of Arroyo and many representatives who are pro-administration welcomed the idea of change in the leadership.
It was sad to think that changes in governance are still motivated by personal agendas and not based on principles. The ouster could have been understood if it was all against the political stands of Alvarez but it was not. It happened because Alvarez did not please people close to the president. He had a rift with the president’s biggest donor, the president’s daughter, and the president’s ally. Alvarez failed to take care of his relationship with others that’s why GMA is coming in. She knows how to take care of relationships.
For many of us, Pantaleon Alvarez had it coming. His authoritarian style of leadership and insensitive remarks akin to the President’s manner of talking do not go well with many Filipinos. He acts and speaks as if Filipinos are his subjects. I am one of many who wants him replaced and wishes that he will never take that seat again. His position as a speaker does not merit his attitude. Though it was only fair for the public to replace him, the manner how he was replaced was another sickness of Philippine politics that needs to be changed. When he was sitting beside Senator Sotto III representing congress, he knew that he was no longer the house speaker. The seat plan was changed while he was still sitting and former allies in the congress arranged it.
It is just striking what politics can do. Allies of GMA and Duterte, perhaps with the blessing of the president, orchestrated a clean and clear-cut method of ousting Alvarez. It was a masterful plan that was undertaken at the most precarious but proved to be a perfect time.
At 3 p.m. on Monday, the manifesto supporting the speakership of GMA was signed, then came the voting that counted 161 in favor of Arroyo who was the sole nominee of the House Speakership after it was declared vacant (Alvarez was outside the plenary hall waiting for the president). It was enough to call it the majority. Alvarez’s allies turned off the audio and kept the mace out of sight to stop the coup but it was too late. In the evening when the session was resumed to formally declare her house speaker, she collected 184 votes, higher than the first count.
In a perspective, it was perfect for the architects, but the scheme just showed us one best example of the dirt in politics. Former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and so many government officials were victims of dirty politicizing.
In a political power play, reason does not stand a chance, relationship does. That is why politicians even without utilizing common sense and reasons survive in politics. Lawmakers lost their confidence in Alvarez because he was not irrational, it happened that he hurt the feelings of big personalities. There is no wonder why politicians jump from one party to another. They want to keep a relationship with those in power because strong relationship means survival and opportunity.
Congress could have kicked out Alvarez in some later time to keep the transition a little bit modest and classy. Postponing the position grabbing can reflect the respect to the president who was to deliver his Sona and respect to the protesters who want to be heard in the streets.
Politics on Monday stole the show. I cannot blame the new speaker of the house. Duterte can perhaps thank the Congress for diverting the attention to the Congress coup away from his SONA because from where I stand, Duterte is failing. This is Philippine politics. There is sickness in it and it is the Filipino people who suffer from this sickness. How can we get well?