De Venecia elected to 5th term as House Speaker

De Venecia elected to 5th term as House Speaker
By Christian V. Esguerra, Norman Bordadora
Last updated 01:16am (Mla time) 07/24/2007

IN THE END, it all boiled down to who had the numbers.


Pangasinan Rep. Jose de Venecia on Monday was elected to an unprecedented fifth term as Speaker of the House of Representatives following a lengthy, chaotic debate described by some lawmakers as a sham.


It got to a point where, for a while, it seemed uncertain that the House would be able to elect a Speaker before President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo arrived to deliver her State of the Nation Address.


De Venecia’s election came barely an hour before Arroyo walked in.


“This is a sham procedure,” Camarines Rep. Luis Villafuerte, who campaigned for Cebu Rep. Pablo Garcia for Speaker, told reporters while lawmakers were holding a roll-call vote to elect the Speaker.


The 81-year-old Garcia, groomed by a faction of the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi) headed by Villafuerte to challenge De Venecia, was never nominated.


“Why didn’t they (Garcia’s supporters) nominate him?” Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin asked. “At least Julius Caesar was invited inside the forum before they stabbed him. He (Garcia) was stabbed on the way to the bathroom by his own allies. It was really weird.”


Villafuerte said it was Garcia who said he did not want to be nominated anymore.


“He advised me that he didn’t want to participate anymore in this procedure, which is a total sham,” he said. “We are not recognizing it. We are not participating.”


Villafuerte predicted a turbulent 14th Congress, citing the “arrogant” manner De Venecia was elected. De Venecia mustered a total of 159 votes.


De Venecia’s road to a fifth term was anything but a breeze.


Up to the plenary
Until a few hours before the House opened its session, he was conducting last-minute discussions with fellow congressmen apparently to ascertain his victory on the floor.


With matters still unresolved, the fates of De Venecia and Garcia inevitably went to the plenary. In the past, the choice for speaker was decided in informal discussions, with the actual election being only a formality.


Garcia’s allies said Monday’s proceedings were mere “preliminary skirmishes.”


“We will push through with our recommended reforms. If he [De Venecia] will ignore them, there will be more problems for him,” Villafuerte told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.


Call for reforms
Villafuerte said many members of the majority coalition would call for a Garcia speakership if De Venecia shunned reforms on improved attendance, greater staff support and funding, and equity in the distribution of committee chairmanships.


Villafuerte questioned the number of those who actually voted for De Venecia.


“Many of those whose votes were counted might deny that they did because they either abstained or just kept quiet,” he added.


De Venecia’s opponents opened the session by promptly questioning the authority of secretary general Roberto Nazareno to act as presiding officer.


The debates dragged on for more than four hours, threatening to delay–if not postpone–the President’s State of the Nation Address scheduled for 4 p.m.


Process railroaded
The minority bloc was particularly incensed after Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali Gonzales II motioned to elect De Venecia as speaker.


“It’s still morning but you’re already railroading the process,” Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño said.


The issue of Nazareno’s legitimacy to preside was “settled” in a disputed vote, with 160 lawmakers backing his right to be presiding officer against 40 others who were opposed.


Locsin said the decision not to field Garcia was meant to avoid having an administration lawmaker serve as minority leader.


Under the rules, the contender with the second highest number of votes automatically becomes leader of the minority.


Offer of reconciliation
In his acceptance speech, De Venecia extended the hand of reconciliation to Garcia and Villafuerte.


He praised Garcia as one of the most brilliant men in the 14th Congress and Villafuerte as his “other good friend.”


“There were whirlwind challenges and debate during the past few weeks as we contemplated the leadership that our House needs at this time,” De Venecia said.


“That process was unprecedented in its ferocity…. Now I extend a hand of reconciliation and friendship to those who were, only momentarily, my rivals,” he added.


De Venecia also said: “This will be the hardest working House of all time. I commit to exercise fair and decisive leadership over the next three years.”


A De Venecia ally, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, said the Speaker would be unhampered in pushing for reforms to alleviate poverty, including passage of the cheaper medicine bill.


The opposition manifested that the minority bloc was choosing San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora as its leader.


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