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Let there be no further delay in the House



FOR weeks the House of Representatives appeared unable to make any kind of decision about the speakership. President Duterte said the House should be left to itself, but with the opening of Congress only two weeks away, the House was in total disarray, incapable of agreement on any issue.

The Senate of 24 members has long made basic decisions on its organization, so that when the 18th Congress begins on Monday, July 22, the chamber can very quickly formalize everything – its leaders, the committee chairmen and members, and other matters to set the stage for the start of its legislative session. The senators can then proceed to the Batasan Complex in Quezon City to join the House in joint session to hear President Duterte’s State of the Nation Address.

In marked contrast to the Senate’s readiness, the House was in disarray early Monday this week. The President said he decided to step in as the situation “was creating so much uncertainty.”

Thus, when he delivers his fourth SONA on Monday, July 22, it will be Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano of Taguig-Pateros, a Nacionalista, on the rostrum behind him, along with Senate President Vicente Sotto III, of the Nationalist People’s Coalition. After 15 months, Rep. Lord Allan Velasco of Marinduque, of the administration party PDP-Laban, will assume the speakership and serve in the remaining 21 months of the First Regular Session of the 18th Congress.

It is indeed difficult to win the support of a majority of the 304 members of the House, since there is no one dominant party in the House. The PDP-Laban has the most members, 84; followed by the Nacionalista Party (NP), 42; the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), 36; and the National Unity Party (NUP), 25. They consti­tute the pro-administration coalition in the House. The Liberal Party (LP) has 18 members, Lakas has 11, and the party-list congressmen number 61. There are also several congressmen elected as candidates of local parties. It was so much easier in the old House before martial law, when two parties – the NP and the LP – dominated Philippine politics.

Without a strong leader in the House, the legislative process would suffer. In the last 17th Congress, many congressmen sought to include certain funds – alleged “pork barrel” – in the appropriation bill with the result that congressional approval of the 2019 National Budget got delayed for three months and projects funded by the bill were thus also delayed.

Now that President Duterte has stepped in to get the House moving, it should be able to proceed on its own as a independent chamber of an independent Congress. Many bills will be requiring its attention but the most important will be the national appropriation bill, the national budget, which must not delayed as it was last year.