Two exes get taken down a peg
And the Romualdez media empire expands
The first draft of this week’s column was in Coalition Rumpus over the weekend. As you’ll see, aside from Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s losing her senior deputy speakership, and the Veep leaving Lakas, PDP-Laban, too, which only last March had its leadership under former Pres. Duterte recognized as legit, is in the process of dividing like an amoeba (the name of the new party a-borning is curiously that of the opposition coalition during the Arroyo administration).
On the other hand, here’s a curious story: Lakas-CMD, PDP-Laban sign partnership agreement
Curious, because of its lack of detail but inclusion of telling gestures:
Stalwarts of the Lakas-CMD and the PDP-Laban have signed a partnership agreement…
The details of the agreement have yet to be released.
Speaker Martin Romualdez and Arroyo are party mates in the Lakas-CMD. Romualdez is the party president while Arroyo is its chairperson-emeritus.
The House of Representatives elected Gonzales the top deputy speaker on Wednesday.
A day later, Arroyo denied reports that she was involved in a plot to unseat Romualdez as Speaker.
On Friday, Vice President Sara Duterte resigned from the Lakas-CMD, under which she ran in Eleksyon 2022.
Arroyo and Sara were then seen in a photo together with several other personalities supposedly after a lunch for birthday celebrants.
On Monday, Romualdez and Gonzales paid their respects to Arroyo by bowing and placing her hand on their foreheads.
This happened before Gonzales took his oath as Senior Deputy Speaker, which Arroyo witnessed while standing with Romualdez and Gonzales at the House rostrum.
May 10 also marked the end of the one-year, post-election ban, on defeated candidates being given jobs by the incumbent president. It’s a natural time, midway to the midterms, to reshuffle the Cabinet and expand the ruling coalition (Lakas, for example, is expanding its ground game with new LGU recruits). The President is expected to make ad interim appointments during the congressional recess, allowing appointees to immediately assume their posts, holding them until and unless Congress’ Commission on Appointments acts on (by confirming or rejecting) the appointments, or the next recess rolls around without action on their appointments.
This week’s The Long View:
THE LONG VIEW
Two ex-prexies taken down a notch
Philippine Daily Inquirer / 04:00 AM May 24, 2023
Sometimes a picture is worth a few dozen words. When a photo of presidents Biden and Marcos Jr. in the White House cabinet room was released, the more protocol-aware were surprised by the seating arrangements on the Philippine side. Flanking President Marcos Jr. were Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez (to his left) and Senior Deputy Speaker (to his right), Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. To Arroyo’s right was Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo, and to the Speaker’s left was Jose Manuel Romualdez, the President’s man in Washington. What caused a double-take from seasoned observers was that the correct positioning would have been to have Ambassador Romualdez seated beside the President since he is the chief executive’s alter ego in the United States, and then Manalo beside the ambassador. The Speaker for his part ought to have been on the other side of the President and then Arroyo, who was merely Romualdez’s deputy, could have been placed beside the Speaker. As a former president, Arroyo might be entitled to some courtesies but as a sitting congresswoman her current position trumps her previous distinctions, particularly during working visits abroad.
Unreported by the media on which the administration managed to keep a tight rein, was Arroyo’s troublesome tendency to venture opinions during the Washington meetings and almost just as bad, to insist on attending meetings in which her presence was neither asked for nor entitled. As it turns out this state of affairs, which would irritate any incumbent president, isn’t one they’ll likely have to worry about in the future: She has been taken down a notch by being removed from her position as senior deputy speaker and made one of a dime-a-dozen deputy speakers. The timing of the news –first, it was unexpectedly announced, by way of a motion by a National Unity Party (NUP) member, in the evening of May 17 at the tail end of business, before a nearly empty chamber; second, it came as the House was gearing up to adjourn on June 2 for a break lasting until July 23, when it reconvenes to hear the State of the Nation Address.
The motion was calculated to humiliate but not provide the pretext for an outright rupture: Arroyo still has a (more modest) House position, on humanitarian grounds (“to relieve her of her heavy load”) and when news got out of the change, Arroyo at first issued a terse statement, then, a day later, she expanded it to two pages that revealed, first, that she had, indeed, planned to be speaker of the current Congress when it convened in 2022, and second, she views one of her main tasks in the ruling coalition is “to help reduce tensions between the United States and China.” As Randy David observed last Sunday (“Power, secrecy, and the politics of hypocrisy,” Opinion, 5/21/23) “she appears to be conveying her personal apprehensions about this administration’s sharp pivot to America.” The problem with this being of course that foreign affairs is the sole prerogative of the incumbent (and not ex) chief executive. The point had been made by the demotion, which she has had to accept because to refuse it, to do otherwise, would signal a fight. And so she protested she still supports Romualdez and was merely misunderstood, though on background, some representatives have claimed they were approached to support an anti-Romualdez coup. The Vice-President for her part announced her resignation from Lakas-CMD, whose members, she pointedly thanked for their support as they “once demonstrated that unity is possible.”
The protestations of both tells us that whatever their motivations, their political movement is limited by their maintaining public support for the President.
The second year of an administration is midway to the midterms, itself a referendum, depending on the Senate results, on every sitting administration. The ruling coalition knows this which is why it proceeded to stand up to be counted: its component blocs enthusing support for Romualdez. At present the House blocs are: the main national parties: Lakas-CMD, 71; Party-List Coalition, 42; PDP-Laban, 38. (including the member who replaced Mrs. Arroyo as senior deputy speaker); then there are the corporate blocs: NUP , 37; NP, 36, and NPC, 33. Just as the NP had as its spinoffs, the LP and NPC, so too, is PDP-Laban dividing: the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino, KNP, has filed for registration as a national party with nine representatives in its national directorate and the secretary of the interior and local governments, Benhur Abalos, as VP for NCR. It’s not just Arroyo, but also former president Rodrigo Duterte, who calls the shots in PDP-Laban, who’s been taking down a notch.
The bone(s) of contention
Another take is by Vishwa Nathan writing in the Asia Sentinel. A long extract, in two parts.
The first extract, on the bone(s) of contention between the President and his immediate predecessor:
“It is a cloak and dagger game. Marcos wants to pull a few of Duterte’s fangs out,” a longtime observer of Philippine politics was quoted as saying. A power struggle with eyes on the presidential election a half-decade away has begun.
The current tension is centered on two issues: One, the fate of Leila de Lima, the former justice secretary and the head of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, whom Duterte, as president, ordered arrested more than six years ago and who remains in police custody; and the other, Duterte’s alleged human rights violations and extra-judicial killings for which the International Criminal Court in The Hague (ICC) wants to prosecute him.
Duterte is unhappy that the courts have acquitted de Lima in two of the three cases and that the Marcos administration simply accepted it. The second acquittal, said Duterte’s chief legal counsel and former presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, was “flawed” as “the evidence extant supports a judgment of conviction.” So, there are grounds for appeal, but the Marcos administration has ignored it.
The ICC is a thornier issue. The European Union has warned that Manila’s position on investigating Duterte’s alleged human rights violations would determine the Philippines’ suitability to continue enjoying GSP+ privileges that slash tariffs on exports to the EU market to zero as a special incentive to developing nations for sustainable development and good governance. As Manila’s access to tariff preferences – critical to Marcos’s economic development program – would be up for renewal by the end of this year, a European diplomatic source thinks that Marcos will have to find a way to meet ICC terms at least halfway. Such a deal would surely aggravate the simmering tension between the Marcos administration and Duterte.
The second is the problem that is another predecessor —and the President’s plans to anoint a successor:
If that wasn’t enough of a headache for the president, a much worse situation erupted within his ruling group, the so-called UniTeam. On May 17, the former president, the 76-year-old Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, whose presidency ended in 2010 mired in scandal, now represents Pampanga’s second district in the House and holds the position of Speaker Martin Romualdez’s second-in-command with the title of senior deputy speaker, was stripped of her “senior” status unceremoniously, without telling her or even attributing a reason for the action.
A few things made it intriguing. For four days, Speaker Romualdez, whose prerogative it is to pick his deputies for House endorsement, kept his lips tight while allegations of Arroyo plotting to overthrow him and take over the speakership spread across the country with the president explainng it away as a "run of the mill" thing that normally happens in Congress. That Arroyo desired the speakership when Marcos won the presidency with the election strategy that she devised is no secret. She has acknowledged it when responding to the claim that she plotted to overthrow Romualdez. According to a knowledgeable source, her explanation that she decided to yield when she realized that the president preferred his cousin as the speaker has the ring of truth.
Romualdez would not have acted without the president’s knowledge, and the president would not have agreed without a compelling reason to cast aside a leader whom he defined as his “secret weapon” in formulating foreign relations and who has gone with him on eight of the 11 foreign trips he has made so far.
According to a seasoned former lawmaker, Marcos might have come under “some unbearable pressure.” He hinted at some sort of horse-trading with the next presidential election five years away. Perhaps, the selection of Arroyo’s successor as the senior deputy speaker—Aurelio Gonzales Jr., the only deputy belonging to Duterte’s political party, PDP-Laban—he says, holds the secret.
Duterte, says this retired lawmaker, wants someone he can count on in Malacañang as well as in the speaker’s chair. He has denounced Marcos as a “weak leader” but has maintained amiable relations with Romualdez, who has greater ambitions than remaining in the speaker’s chair. He is likely to run for a senate seat in 2025 as a prelude to bidding for president in 2028, for which he is being groomed by Marcos. The president has taken the speaker on all his foreign trips and also brought him to one-on-one conversations with his foreign counterparts.
When Romualdez decides on the senate race, Arroyo, remaining as senior deputy speaker, would become the speaker. Such an opportunity for Arroyo is something that Duterte can’t stomach. He is upset with his daughter for not yielding to his call to run for president in 2022 and with Arroyo for persuading the daughter to run with Marcos as his vice-presidential partner on a UniTeam ticket.
So, when Romualdez leaves the speaker’s chair, Duterte would prefer someone he could count on as the new speaker as well as the next president if ICC action continues to hang over his head. If Arroyo were to become the speaker, she might prove unimaginably dangerous to Duterte’s interests as she could help his far-too-independent-minded daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio succeed Marcos in 2028. Duterte could breathe easy if Romualdez, rather than his daughter, took Malacañang in 2028, as he is better disposed towards Romualdez than he is towards his daughter or Marcos. In 2022, when he was contemplating running for vice president, Duterte said he would give up the idea if Romualdez chose to seek the position.
This is different and more domestically-centered than my belief that Arroyo has come on too strongly on China’s side —and that, if any preparations are going on, they are primarily for the midterms as the presidential derby is too far away right now. Here, the pruning of the ex-president’s party (Duterte’s PDP-Laban). is more significant than an individual member of it being given a leadership post (the way legislative affairs are run, personal relations count more than party relations).
We saw it coming department:
Two Tweets, mine from 2022, CNN’s, yesterday.
While the radio frequency once held by ABS-CBN will now go to the Romualdez media empire, word is ANC will remain on air and with the Lopezes.