Philippines Congress Standoff
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The leader of the Philippines' House of Representatives announced his resignation Tuesday, ending a standoff with a rival speaker that has stalled the passage of next year’s budget, including funds for fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano made the announcement in a Facebook video message from his neighborhood while legislators were ratifying the election of his rival Rep. Lord Allan Velasco as speaker. Both are allies of President Rodrigo Duterte, who had brokered a power-sharing deal that went awry this week and set off the standoff.
Cayetano and his allied legislators mocked Velasco’s election Monday as speaker by his supporters in a sports club outside Congress. He said he was giving way to avoid damage to the 300-strong legislative chamber as a democratic institution.
“If we bastardize Congress, we’re also bastardizing our country,” Cayetano said in his video message.
Despite the easing of the impasse, Duterte called Cayetano and Velasco to a meeting at the presidential palace Tuesday, mainly to ensure the rapid passage of the proposed 4.5 trillion peso ($90 billion) budget, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.
The military chief of staff, Gen. Gilbert Gapay, said the military has kept an eye on the House impasse. “We were just getting prepared in case it gets out of hand because sometimes during situations like this, many may take advantage,” Gapay said at a news conference.
Duterte brokered a power-sharing deal last year in which Cayetano would assume the speakership for 15 months until this month, to be followed by Velasco, who would serve as speaker for the remaining 21 months.
Cayetano recently offered to step down, but his camp said a majority of lawmakers voted to reject his resignation. After Cayetano steered the initial approval of the budget, his camp abruptly suspended congressional sessions, pre-empting Velasco’s assumption of the speakership under the power-sharing deal.
Several lawmakers protested that the suspension blocked them from scrutinizing the budget, including crucial appropriations for the Department of Health, which is spearheading efforts to contain coronavirus outbreaks.
With top police and military generals standing beside him, Duterte went on TV last week to warn that he would intercede if the House leadership crisis threatens the passage of the budget. He later called for a special session of the House starting Tuesday to ensure the budget’s approval.
Velasco’s allied legislators gathered Monday in a sports club to declare the House speakership vacant, then elected Velasco as his replacement.
Cayetano and his camp blasted the move as illegal and a travesty, initially insisting that he still had the support of majority of legislators. But he changed his mind and announced his resignation Tuesday, accusing his rivals of damaging doors and forcing their way to take over the House of Representatives.
Associated Press photojournalist Aaron Favila contributed to this report.