Thu, 21 Nov 2019

Photo from the PCOO website.

PRESIDENT RODRIGO Duterte broke yet another promise with his meddling in the race for House speakership. Despite his earlier assurance that he would stay neutral on the issue, the president announced during a speech on July 8 that "Your Speaker will be Alan Peter Cayetano"-adding that Cayetano (1st Dist., Taguig City) will share the three-year term with Rep. Lord Allan Velasco (Lone District of Marinduque), along with the choice of Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez (1st Dist., Leyte) as majority leader.

Most reports on the speakership squabble did not look into the legality of the president's intervention and its impact on the independence of the legislature. The coverage highlighted the views of the president and his family, including the two in politics, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte and Rep. Paolo Duterte (1st Dist., Davao City). The latter had also expressed interest in the position, as the media recorded every utterance and flipflop of the dynastic trio who openly flouted constitutionally prescribed independence of the legislature from the chief executive.

While it is commonly known that Philippine politics involves consultation with the president in the leadership of either house of Congress when his party controls the numbers for support, this process has been done with discretion. Such intervention by the executive is illegal. But Duterte has changed political and social norms and the media have facilitated the acceptance of shameless politicking, restraining from questioning its propriety, indeed its legality.

CMFR monitored the reporting on the issue of the three leading Manila broadsheets (Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star, and Manila Bulletin), the primetime newscasts (ABS-CBN 2's TV Patrol, GMA-7's 24 Oras, TV5's Aksyon, and CNN Philippines' News Night) and selected cable news programs and news websites from July 1 to 10, 2019.

Constitutionality

Instead of reporting on the qualifications of the different aspirants for the post of speaker, the media was fixated on the squabble within the administration "supermajority." Reports made much of the administration factions including the Duterte siblings' "Duterte Coalition" and Cayetano's "Diehard Duterte Supermajority." The overwhelming attention on the tiff among administration aspirants for the post sidelined the opposition, some of whose members were also fielding candidates.

CMFR cheers some online reports that critically discussed the constitutionality of the president's term-sharing proposal and endorsement.

A report by Rappler on July 8 cited former Supreme Court spokerperson Atty. Ted Te who said that "The Constitution vests the choice (for leadership) in the members of the two houses, not on anyone else." Te pointed out that Duterte's actions violate Section 16 (1), Article VI of the Constitution.

That provision states that, "The Senate shall elect its President, and the House of Representatives its Speaker, by a majority vote of all its respective Members." Rappler also noted that term-sharing is not found on the House of Representatives internal rules.

A report by Interaksyon on July 10 aired citizens' concerns about Duterte's open intervention, which some likened to an official appointment. Interaksyon stressed that Congress was a co-equal branch of government, and such an appointment by the president of any of its officials was "not in line" with the constitution.

Inquirer's editorial on July 12 pointed out that in previous administrations, "the mere whiff of presidential intervention in the choosing of the Senate President or House Speaker in so direct a manner would have been considered offensive, a violation of Congress' putative independence from the executive."

This administration, however, did not even try to conceal the executive's overreach of power and influence over the legislature. The president's bold disregard of the constitution in virtually anointing the new speaker is not only misguided, but dangerous as well, as it further erodes the already problematic system of checks and balance. The Speaker of the House, the fourth highest official in the country, should serve with independence and autonomy, rather than be bound by presidential patronage.

In reporting the meddling by the other Duterte politicians, the coverage did not call attention to the insensibility and sense of entitlement displayed by Paolo Duterte, a neophyte in Congress and Sara Duterte, who is not even a member of the House.

The failure of the media to focus on these offenses misleads the uninformed public into thinking that there is nothing wrong with this kind of political conduct. It lays the ground for the acceptance of the president's complete control over the political system, one that has been designed carefully to guard against authoritarian tendencies of those elected.

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