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Master of the House?

Sometimes, I wonder if House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez is trying to out-Digong even Digong himself. Then I think about how President Rodrigo Duterte is actually a very smart political strategist and tactician and I wonder if what Alvarez really has is just attitude instead of real substance.

Alvarez can certainly be as impetuous as Duterte is supposed to be. The Speaker proved this when he warned that congressmen who would vote against the watered-down proposed law reimposing the death penalty would lose their positions of leadership in the House.

The measure did pass with a big majority, although the 54 lawmakers (more than a quarter of the House) who thumbed it down must have been worrisome, for a speaker who claims an almost absolute “supermajority” in the chamber. But then, Alvarez made matters worse when he fell into a trap set by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, who heckled the Speaker about his threat to sanction House members who would vote against the return of the penalty.

Then Alvarez showed again just how vastly different he was (and this is no compliment) from previous speakers known for their ability to compromise and to secure consensus in the House: He promptly ordered, on the last session day, the removal of all deputy speakers and committee chairmen who didn’t vote for the death penalty.

Alvarez is fast turning into a petty tyrant in a collegial House, where each member was either voted by a district constituency or by a nationally represented party list. And where previous speakers would quietly buttonhole congressmen in order to secure votes and push initiatives, Alvarez seems to believe that he can just order congressmen around.

The Speaker’s role in the House is once again in focus, after all, now that moves to impeach both Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo have either been filed or will soon be filed before the chamber. And Alvarez has already made his wishes known, calling the complaint against Duterte filed by Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano “stupid” and vowing to immediately have the one against Robredo transmitted directly to the Senate—a la Corona—as soon as he secures the required 100 or so votes of the House.

I have no doubt whatsoever that Alvarez can deliver the House to Duterte as he says. But that’s not saying much about his abilities, really, because the House majority always looks to Malacanang anyway, under any administration, in order to secure pork, projects or whatever will benefit the individual congressmen.

But if I were Duterte, I’d think long and hard about the real value of having Alvarez as speaker, since he seems to be hell-bent on making more enemies for the President in Congress instead of being a calming and steadying influence on them. And some congressmen I’ve talked to, while they continue to support Duterte, are approaching a point where they see no real advantage in giving the same support to his designated speaker.

For instance, they point out, Alvarez has been remiss in that part of his job that requires statesmanship. Like when he ordered the virtual eviction of the congressional spouses from the Batasan, another move that angered the wives of lawmakers who have done charitable and civic work for decades now.

And Alvarez has not clamped down on the shenanigans of congressmen, like the lucrative practice of one lawmaker who demands an upfront fee for the approval of franchises in the name of all the other congressmen. Nor has Alvarez been a force for unity and the settlement of disputes, like when he supposedly took sides after two lawmakers’ girlfriends quarreled during a recent presidential trip.

I don’t recall ever seeing the House under a more combative, petty and divisive leadership since the reinstatement of the bicameral Congress by the 1987 Constitution than it is under Alvarez. I think Alvarez actually considers himself, like the innkeeper in Les Miz, to be the Master of the House, instead of merely its conciliatory and statesmanlike primus inter pares.

If Alvarez is not careful, he could lose his high office in a leadership coup soon. After all, even someone as politically astute a consensus-builder as Jose de Venecia lost the Speakership, once then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has decided that he was doing more harm than good.

* * *

I don’t know why the New York Times has decided to go on an all-out war against Duterte, mouthing the exact same lines as his political opponents and even calling, in an editorial, for higher tariffs and other economic sanctions against the Philippines to “hit his government where it may hurt the most.” I wonder why, as the NYT joins the European Union in glorifying Leila de Lima and calling for her immediate release, not one of the foreign entities that have decided to destroy Duterte has even consulted the Filipino people.

Is the Philippines a rogue state like North Korea or a terrorist-occupied one like Syria? Does its government routinely ignore human rights for all its citizens like Saudi Arabia or some states in sub-Saharan Africa?

I don’t know. All I know is, the vast majority of Filipinos actually support Duterte and his government, like the 82 percent who agreed with his anti-drug campaign, as polled by Pulse Asia in a survey released just last Friday.

What gives, NYT? Are you guys so tired of bashing Donald Trump that you have to look for some other country that you have to ruin apart from your own?

Topics: Jojo Robles , Master of the House , House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez , President Rodrigo Duterte , New York Times
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