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Presidential clout





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For pro-administration allies, the resolution of the leadership strife between House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Jay Velasco was Solomonic.

Skillfully using his clout, President Duterte, despite political undercurrents in the House favoring Cayetano, pushed for the execution of the “gentleman’s agreement” the two antagonists agreed over a year ago in the presence of the Chief Executive.

Under the accord, Cayetano would take over the House leadership for 15 months, while Velasco, a close friend of Deputy Speaker and the President’s son Rep. Paolo Duterte, would get a longer 21-month congressional reign.

From the start of the Duterte presidency, the Palace leadership has always exerted its muscle in determining who must lead the House, a legislative chamber that, for all intents and purposes, should have been allowed to prosper on its merits without any outside predisposition.

But such has not been the case. Before Congress opened in 2016 under the new presidency, Duterte promptly floated his preference for Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez. Like seaweeds against an onrushing tide, nearly all lawmakers in the House read the announcement as a declaration of support. What followed was a disastrous leadership.

To assert that Congress (and the Judiciary for that matter) is independent of the Executive is pure fiction. Under any condition, the arrangement postulated in the Charter about check and balance between and among the three branches of government is an unbalanced arrangement.

Under the constitutional setup, the justices of the High Court relies on the imprimatur of the President for their appointments while congressmen usually take the side of the most viable presidential bet during an election as a matter of lifeline for future favor or political security.

The increasing influence imposed by the President on Congress may not be necessarily bad if the principal and undiluted reason is to ensure that his agenda gets a faster than usual treatment. What is disturbing, however, is the use of such intervention as a clever instrument for future electoral plan. In case of Duterte, this is more than just a given due to the prevailing political drumbeat for his daughter, Davao city mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, to succeed him in 2022.

By resolving the deadlock in the House, moreover, Duterte has made an assertive move that place Congress in better light but also, albeit negatively, strengthened the observation that the lower chamber has become a province under the Executive.

This observation may leave a bitter taste on the lips, but it sure breaks the myth about legislative independence, something that must be changed when the appropriate time comes.