All the President's men: The 5-way race for the speakership

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The race to the top post at the House of Representatives is on — and it is more heated than ever.

The speakership is seen as a key position of power in the lead up to the 2022 elections, as the House may make or break the legislative agenda of President Rodrigo Duterte — which may either boost or hurt the chances of administration candidates in the next national elections.

“The performance of the administration will also depend on the performance of the House of Representatives ... If these legislative programs are not enacted in the House and they do not become a law, therefore the development plans, the vision of the present administration cannot be fulfilled,” House Majority Leader Fredenil Castro told CNN Philippines.

There are at least five lawmakers eyeing to get the number 4 car plate. Two incoming congressmen whose names have been floated have ruled out running for Speaker: Outgoing Senator Loren Legarda and former Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte.

READ: Duterte says he will resign if son Paolo runs for House Speaker

That leaves three speakership bets from the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino – Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), one former Foreign Affairs secretary and an ally of outgoing Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. All of them claim to support the President and his legislative agenda.

Who are they and what are the cards they could play to secure the top seat in Batasan?

The former Speaker

Davao del Norte 1st District Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez is undeterred in running once again for Speaker despite having been ousted from the post last year by a House dominated by members of his party. (FILE PHOTO)

Davao del Norte 1st District Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez is undeterred in running once again for Speaker despite having been ousted from the post last year by a House dominated by members of his party.

Alvarez believes he has the numbers to make a comeback — contrary to the claims of incumbent House leaders.

But he is waiting for the blessing of President Rodrigo Duterte, who is expected to pick between him and two other party members to become the next leader of the lower chamber.

Members of the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino – Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) will have to support whoever Duterte picks or they will face sanctions, as warned by party president Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III.

The presidential endorsement is also seen as the deciding factor in the speakership race, according to House leaders. They said that despite congressmen already having committed to back a candidate, they may all drop their support in favor of the President’s anointed bet.

Malacañang has said Duterte is keeping his hands off the speakership race and will not back any of the candidates.

But another Duterte may block Alvarez’ way back to the podium at the House — the President’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, is seen as a major power broker in the chamber and she has refused to mend ties with the former Speaker.

Sara got furious at Alvarez and reportedly masterminded his ouster after he supposedly called her “part of the opposition” for establishing the regional Hugpong ng Pagbabago party.

Should he survive Sara’s fury and clinch the President’s endorsement, Alvarez said he will support the chief executive’s legislative agenda and shepherd it through the lower house of Congress, like what he did back when he was Speaker for almost two years.

At the helm of the House, Alvarez ensured that Duterte’s pet bills easily slipped through the chamber, including the revival of the death penalty and the measure prohibiting labor-only contracting.

Alvarez also pushed the House to fasttrack the impeachment of then-Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Despite his show of loyalty to the President, rumors are abound that he has fallen out of the chief executive’s favor.

Of the five candidates for speakership, Alvarez is the only one who did not accompany the President in his trip to Japan.

The Dutertes' close ally

Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Jay Velasco was seen as one of the top contenders to replace then-Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez once he gets booted out of the podium. (FILE PHOTO)

Another of PDP-Laban’s prospective bets for Speaker is Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Jay Velasco who has long been rumored to take the speakership even before Alvarez' ouster in 2018. He was seen as one of the top contenders to replace Alvarez once he gets booted out of the podium.

After all, he is close to the President and his daughter, Sara, whose endorsements seem to be the key to clinch the top post in the lower house.

Velasco named his daughter after the Davao City Mayor and has also thrown birthday bashes for the President in 2017 and 2018.

He has claimed that his speakership bid has the backing of the two Dutertes. In fact, in two events in his baliwick of Marinduque, the father-and-daughter duo called him the next House Speaker.

While Sara has been publicly mum on her bet for Speaker, Malacañang has also insisted that House is on its own to pick its next leader.

Sara has not made her choice known publicly, but a report has said that the Davao City Mayor has tapped the Nationalist People's Coalition's (NPC) support for Velasco's bid. The NPC will have 36 lawmakers in the House at the start of the next Congress.

The second-largest voting bloc in the House — the 56-member party-list coalition — has also said that it will vote for whoever the President or his daughter endorses.

Should he clinch the speakership — with or without the endorsement of the Dutertes — Velasco vows to be a "listening Speaker" of the House, shepherd the President's agenda in the chamber, and ensure that all lawmakers receive budgets for their respective districts.

The gentleman in waiting

Pampanga 3rd District Rep. Aurelio "Dong" Gonzales is a staunch proponent of shifting to a federal form of government. (FILE PHOTO)

The third PDP-Laban speakership bet was only thrust into the race upon the suggestion of the party’s stalwarts.

Party leaders and its 2019 senatorial candidates drafted Pampanga 3rd District Rep. Aurelio “Dong” Gonzales’ name into the shortlist for PDP-Laban’s pick for Speaker despite having been only in the party since 2016.

Gonzales has proved to be a good soldier of the ruling party, having been among the staunch proponents of its main platform of shifting to a federal form of government. In the 2019 campaign, he was chosen to be the party’s deputy campaign manager.

Like his fellow speakership candidates from PDP-Laban, Gonzales is relying on the endorsement of the President, which can net him at least 137 votes from lawmakers from the party and from the party-list coalition.

Kung hindi mangingialam [si Pangulo,] of course, may mga negosyante diyan, may mga big player diyan, may mga broker diyan. So ang nakikita ko lang, maraming mga damages na mangyayari, lalo na sa mga congressmen,” Gonzales told CNN Philippines.

[Translation: If the President won’t meddle, of course, there would be businessmen, big players and brokers there. So what I see, this would bring many damages, especially to congressmen.]

Gonzales is the main author of Resolution of Both Houses No. 8, which proposes that Congress convene into a constituent assembly which would propose amendments to the Constitution.

Attached to this resolution is a draft federal constitution which has raised eyebrows for limiting the protection of the freedom of speech only to its "responsible exercise" and clipping the judiciary's power to review grave abuses of discretion.

READ: Coalition formed to fight 'worst Cha-cha ever'

His proposal was eventually substituted with House Concurrent Resolution No. 9, whose authors include the outgoing Speaker.

As he clinched a reelection bid, Gonzales said he would refile his proposal for a new federal constitution, as moves to amend the charter to usher in a shift from the current unitary form of government hit a brick wall at the Senate.

Unlike Velasco, he has no claim to any connection to the President and Mayor Sara. However, he believes that is his edge over other speakership bets as he would become an "equalizing" Speaker.

The former running mate

Incoming Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano has long had his eyes set in becoming a Congress leader. (FILE PHOTO)

Even with three bets for Speaker from PDP-Laban, Alvarez, who is the secretary general of the party, has said that the President can choose a candidate for the speakership from outside the party.

Castro believes that this could be incoming Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano of the Nacionalista Party (NP), who has served as the President's Foreign Affairs Secretary and was his running mate in the 2016 elections.

Cayetano has long had his eyes set in becoming a Congress leader, having vied for the Senate presidency after losing to Vice President Leni Robredo. However, senators instead elected Pimentel, the president of PDP-Laban, as he hails from the same party as President Duterte.

Cayetano's term as senator was cut short after Duterte picked him to become Foreign Affairs Secretary a year after his defeat in the vice presidential election.

As the country's top diplomat, Cayetano ardently defended the Duterte administration's warming ties to China and seeming inaction on the Asian giant's reported incursions in the West Philippine Sea. His stint as Foreign Affairs chie was brief as he had to depart the Cabinet to mount his congressional bid.

The 42 NP elected members of the House are expected to vote for their partymate Cayetano. The National Unity Party (NUP), with 26 members who won seats in the chamber, has also picked Cayetano for the speakership.

"The NUP will support the candidate who supports President Duterte and has the broadest government experience, who can eloquently represent the Congress and the country in interactions with foreign counterparts," NUP chair Ronaldo Puno said.

While other speakership bets are also leaning on the endorsement of Mayor Sara to grab the top post at the House, the Davao City Mayor has said that Cayetano did not seek her blessing.

Sara even said that Cayetano made a "veiled threat" that if she endorses Velasco for Speaker, she would be breaking up the coalition which will affect the 2022 presidential race.

Unlike other speakership bets, Cayetano has been largely mum on what he plans to do if he becomes the next Speaker of the House. But he said that he requested President Duterte for a "more principled way to the speakership" during the speakership bets' meeting with him in Japan.

"Trusting the institution and protecting its integrity is essential to the reforms we are fighting for," Cayetano said.

The Speaker's bet?

A House leader believes that Leyte 1st District Rep.-elect Martin Romualdez would get Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's backing. (FILE PHOTO)

Aside from the Dutertes, congressmen are also looking to another key power broker in the chamber — Arroyo.

While the outgoing Speaker has taken a hands-off approach in the speakership race, outgoing House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez believes that Leyte 1st District Rep.-elect Martin Romualdez would get her backing.

Romualdez, kin of the powerful Marcos clan, is the president of Arroyo's former party, Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats. He is returning to the House after a three-year hiatus following his defeat in the 2016 senatorial race, where he was endorsed by then-Mayor Duterte and then-Vice President Jejomar Binay.

Romualdez also clinched the endorsement of President Duterte and Mayor Sara for his congressional bid, but Sara was quick to clarify that she has not endorsed the comebacking lawmaker for Speaker.

If Suarez is to be believed, Romualdez is the leading speakership bet, with around 150 congressmen reportedly backing his bid.

Romualdez has earned praises from lawmakers, calling him the most qualified for the post.

"He knows his economics and he knows his politics, too. Definitely, he can unite the House of Representatives and move us into passing vital economic measures needed to sustain the country’s economic growth," Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Salceda said.

Even if it appears that he already has the backing of almost half of the House, Romualdez may still lose out to the President's pick, as lawmakers who are now backing him might defect to whoever the chief executive's anointed candidate is.

But if the President does not endorse anyone, Suarez said Romualdez may clinch the speakership.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Xianne Arcangel contributed to this report.