By Ben Rosario
In an unprecedented move, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was installed as speaker of the House of Representatives yesterday, just minutes before President Duterte delivered his State of the Nation Address (SONA).
A total of 162 congressmen installed the Pampanga representative notwithstanding the absence of a formal session.
Ms. Arroyo climbed the rostrum and took her oath of office despite the absence of a sound system.
Pantaleon Alvarez, the former speaker, was not at the plenary hall during Arroyo’s takeover. He was seen welcoming the arrival of Duterte along with Majority Leader Rep. Rodolfo Farinas.
The change in leadership triggered a chaotic resumption of regular sessions at the House which failed to ratify the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) as a result.
The ratification of the bicameral report on the BOL was planned out in order for Duterte to make its historical approval into law during his SONA.
Earlier, and a sizeable group of congressmen deciding to return to the plenary hall to continue deliberations on both the BOL and the leadership change.
While the session can start with the presence of Deputy Speaker and Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro on the plenary, it cannot legally be initiated without the mace that authorizes the holding of a session.
The Lower House mace, which is usually hang at the speaker’s rostrum, went missing almost instantaneously after Deputy Speaker and Cebu Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia unexpectedly declared adjournment.
Garcia emerged at the rostrum shortly after PDP-Laban congressmen were called to an emergency caucus following a break declared by Alvarez.
Alvarez had opened the third regular session of the 17th Congress by delivering a speech prior to the calling of the rolls of members.
Many speculated that it was Alvarez’s valedictory remark as he allegedly agreed to step down from the speakership to give way to Arroyo’s ascension as House leader.
Mindoro Oriental Rep. Reynaldo Umali said Farinas has rejected the bid to eject Alvarez, saying that the he, too, must be allowed to step down.
Farinas’ protest reportedly spurred PDP-Laban congressmen to fight off the ouster bid as they called for a caucus at the speaker’s office during the break.
The lawmakers never returned to the plenary and instead, Garcia was seen declaring an adjournment some 45 minutes later.
Arroyo ally and Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. objected to the adjournment but to no avail.
Plan to oust Alvarez was put in motion over the weekend through a series of meetings between groups allied with presidential daughter and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte and Davao del Norte Rep. Antonio Floirendo Jr., Alvarez’s political foe.
“This will be better for the whole country,” Floirendo responded when asked to confirm if the ouster attempt were true.
In “Alvarez Out” viber group was formed with Mayor Duterte among the personalities in the group pressing for the speaker’s removal.
On the eve of SONA, congressmen started receiving anonymous text messages calling them to “vote for GMA.”
House officials and staunch allies of Alvarez, among them Reps. Rodito Albano (NPC, Isabela) and Ricky Sandoval (PDP-Laban, Malabon), did not receive any such messages.
“I am not privy to any coup. Perhaps they consider me an ally of the speaker,” said Sandoval.
As early as 7 am yesterday, various political blocs in the Lower House conducted closed door caucuses with the Sara-Floirendo mounted coup being the main topic.