House squabble again shows personality politics in PHL

By Beatriz Marie D. Cruz and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporters

THE LEADERSHIP squabble in the House of Representatives that evolved last week once again showed a pervasive character of Philippine politics — a ruling coalition built on personal interests, not principles and policy agenda, analysts said at the weekend.

“During the elections, they (politicians) will coalesce, and the idea was just to make someone win,” Jean S. Encinas-Franco, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines, said via phone call.

She said that once their president is elected, the coalition’s stability would depend on whether some members are given positions or “perks that they expected from the president and the administration they support.”

“It’s weak especially if your only agenda for coalescing was to make a person win. That has been the practice to get as many people on your side as much as possible during the elections.”

Fault lines have emerged within the ruling coalition — packaged as “Uniteam” — after lawmakers demoted former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as just deputy speaker from senior deputy speaker.

She was replaced by Pampanga Rep. Aurelio “Dong” D. Gonzales, Jr., national treasurer of former President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s PDP-Laban.

The change was supposedly made to “unburden” Ms. Arroyo of her responsibilities, House Majority Leader and Zamboanga City Rep. Manuel Jose M. Dalipe said.

Amid the House position changes, Vice President Sara Z. Duterte-Carpio, the former president’s mentee, announced her resignation from the ruling Lakas-CMD, which became the vehicle for her 2022 campaign.

Arjan P. Aguirre, who teaches political science at the Ateneo De Manila University, said Ms. Arroyo’s demotion shows how extensive her political influence is.

“In the current state of affairs, GMA has become too powerful to the point that her decisions have obviously become a threat to other political forces within the Marcos bloc,” he said in an e-mail.

Ms. Arroyo frequently joined President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. in his foreign trips. Members of Mr. Marcos’ Cabinet have previously worked under her administration.

Mr. Aguirre called the demotion a result of an attempted “power grab” from Ms. Arroyo.

Following Ms. Arroyo’s demotion, rumors that she is seeking to grab the House leadership from House Speaker Martin G. Romualdez circulated.

But the former president said her actions “have been misconstrued,” denying that she’s plotting a “coup” against Mr. Romualdez, a first cousin of Mr. Marcos.

She bared, however, that she had aspired to become House Speaker after Mr. Marcos won the presidency.

“But it soon became apparent that he was most comfortable with then Congressman Martin Romualdez as Speaker. I quickly realized the wisdom embedded in that sentiment,” she said in a recent statement.

“From what we are seeing now, we can assume that this may also be connected to the opening of a new congress,” Mr. Aguirre said. “The power bloc or the sitting House leadership may be sensing or expecting some movements from the camp of GMA and her Lakas party to oust the House Speaker.”

After Ms. Arroyo’s demotion, various political blocks in the House have issued statements of support for Mr. Romualdez and Mr. Marcos.

Among them are the PDP-Laban and the Nacionalista Party of former Senate President Manuel B. Villar and his wife Senator Cynthia A. Villar. The Nationalist People’s Coalition, and National Unity Party also backed Mr. Romualdez.

Ms. Arroyo, who is president emeritus of Lakas-CMD, is a key backer of the political alliance between the family of Mr. Marcos and that of Mr. Duterte, who has been critical of the current administration’s pivot to the United States.

Ms. Duterte, in a statement seen as supportive of Ms. Arroyo, cited “political toxicity” and “execrable political power play.”

Cleve Kevin Robert V. Arguelles, president of WR Numero Research and political science professor at De La Salle University, said, “a huge coalition is tricky to keep together,” noting the existence of many key players and their own interests involved.

“You can’t always satisfy all those key players at the same time,” he said via phone call.

Maria Ela L. Atienza, former chair of the University of the Philippines political science department, also said that the falling-out at the House demonstrates that members of the ruling coalition are not united by platforms but by vested interests.

“Because the people in the so-called super majority are not united by platforms but by vested interests, i.e. they stay as long as they find the alliance useful to their own interests, it can break any time there are rifts or clashes of interests and personalities,” she said via Viber.

Mr. Romualdez, in a statement on Sunday, said “occasional moves to destabilize the House should be nipped in the bud” since “there is still much work to do.”

“The Uniteam, which the House Leadership has always been a part of, must continue to focus on finding immediate solutions to problems of ordinary Filipinos.”

Lakas-CMD, which was Ms. Duterte’s top campaign donor in the 2022 campaign, is currently the biggest party in the House. Mr. Marcos’ Partido Federal ng Pilipinas has remained irrelevant in Congress.

“If the rift widens, there could be changes in the House leadership before or during the second State of the Nation Address of the President,” Ms. Atienza said.

“Crucial here would be how the President deals with this rift and whether he will display political leadership or not vis-a-vis other players like the Speaker and former President Arroyo,” she said.

“Part of the considerations or calculations of many players also would be preparations for the 2025 midterm elections and the 2028 presidential elections and protecting their own interests.”