Rumblings and grumblings

By: Artchil B. Fernandez

ALL IS NOT well in the present administration, literally and figuratively. Du30’s first public appearance at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) graduation after fourteen days of disappearance from public view reveals a visibly unwell person. He walked weakly and nearly fell down from a platform. A tired Du30 distributed the award on the first and the last cadet, sat for the rest of ceremony and appeared to be napping.

Despite the public assurance of several cabinet officials that Du30 is in a perfect health and was only tired at the PMA rites after reading and signing tons of papers, they cannot hide the real state of his health forever. Sooner, the truth of Du30’s physical well-being will come out and concealing it only delays the inevitable.

Different political factions within the administration are beginning to smell blood and cracks are starting to appear. This can be gleaned from the rumblings and grumblings emanating from the administration. The intra-elite fight for the post-Du30 era has begun and for a start, the arena is the two houses of Congress.

Over at the Senate, the clean sweep of administration in the senatorial race in the last election is creating headache for the current Senate leadership. With twenty senators many assumed to be aligned with the administration, it is expected that everything will be smooth in the upper chamber of Congress. Hardly had the congratulatory applause died down when Senate President Tito Sotto sensed danger to his position.

Possibly to thwart a threat or out of panic Sotto publicly warned that should he be ousted from his post, the Du30 administration will become lame duck. Sotto addressed the warning to the administration since the threat to his position comes from the neophyte, just elected senators identified as Du30 loyalists.

The trouble started with the squabble over committee chairmanships. Newbie senators Francis Tolentino and dictator’s daughter Imee Marcos are leading the charge against the “old guards” in the Senate as they salivate over the committees headed by senior senators. Tolentino wanted to head six committees including those headed by old Senate hands.

Senator Gordon chairs two vital committees, the blue ribbon and justice which are being eyed by some newbies. The committee on public order and dangerous drugs is headed by Senator Lacson and neophyte Bato de la Rosa is said to be interested to snatch it from him.  Lacson was aghast at the aggressiveness of the new senators. “This is the first time I am seeing new senators, brazenly wanting a committee without even showing some courtesy to incumbent chairpersons,” Lacson exclaimed.

To arrest the threat against Sotto, Senator Manny Pacquiao started circulating a resolution supporting Sotto. When he broached the resolution to re-elected senator Cynthia Villar who also belongs to the majority, she refused to sign. Villar is rumored to be being groomed to replace Sotto. “Why would I sign that? I might compromise my party mates because it’s my signature that will appear there,” an upset Villar told Pacquiao. Later Pacquiao claimed thirteen senators from the majority signed.

Meanwhile, at the Lower House the fight for the Speakership has become an open and free-for-all contest. In the past, only one vote matter in the selection of House leader.  Who ever get the blessing of the president becomes Speaker. Congressmen/women just toe the line.

Four congressmen wanted to be Speaker, three in serious contention, the last one, Pantaleon Alvarez just out to muddle the contest. Du30 met with the major contenders in Japan – Lord Allan Velasco, Martin Romualdez and Alan Peter Cayetano and told them he is keeping his hands off the race. “Whoever’s the choice of the members of Congress, then he would be Speaker,” Du30’s spokesman Panelo said.

What is happening in the Speaker race is an instructive lesson in politics, especially to Cayetano – that is does not pay to be a wimp and an ass-licker. Cayetano left his post as foreign affairs secretary and became congressman claiming that Du30 wanted him to be Speaker. A neutral Du30 is a big set-back to his ambition and he was once again duped.  Sensing defeat, Cayetano warned he could become an opposition.

The fight for the Speakership is a battle royale between Velasco who is backed by Sara Duterte and Romualdez who is reportedly the bet of current Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA). The outcome of this proxy contest between Sara Duterte and GMA is interesting. Who will win? A veteran, shrewd, Machiavellian operator or an upstart banking in his father’s reflected glory?

Whatever is the outcome in the fight for the Senate presidency and Speaker of the House, the result is the splintering and not the consolidation of Du30’s hegemonic bloc.

Even if Sotto retains his position, he will always be looking on his back. Villar and her allies will not rest especially if Villar entertains presidential ambition. Replacing Sotto will immediately create a strong backlash in the Senate, powerful enough to render the Du30 administration a “lame duck” to use the word of Sotto.

In the House, a Velasco victory will resuscitate the faltering image of Sara Duterte as a key national player. Triumph of Romualdez on the other hand will strengthen the hand of GMA and will be the second time the wily GMA has outmaneuvered Du30. (The first time was GMA’s House coup last year).

Regardless of the result of the leadership contest in Congress, the rumblings and grumblings within the administration will only grow louder and increase in decibel. Losers, especially those who felt double-crossed will not take their defeat setting down.

Du30 has entered the twilight zone of his rule, limping into the sunset. Instead of pushing for his grand projects like federalism, Du30 will likely spend the last three years plotting his survival after he steps down (if his health permits it).