MANILA - While the whole country was waiting for President Rodrigo Duterte to deliver his third State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, a series of events unfolded at the House of Representatives which brought to fore the importance of a symbol of authority: the mace.
Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo was on the verge of assuming the House leadership in a political power play with Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.
At one point, Arroyo took her oath of office at the House rostrum in an apparent unofficial session, while Alvarez was waiting to welcome Duterte in another part of the lower House.
What made Arroyo's takeover unofficial was the absence of the House mace, which signifies that the lower chamber is in session.
According to the official website of the House of Representatives, the Mace of the House is a "symbol of authority, which is displayed at the foot of the Speaker's Rostrum whenever the House is in session."
It also serves as the "warrant for the Sergeant-at-Arms in enforcing order in the House upon instruction of the Speaker."
According to Prof. Ranjit Rye of the University of the Philippines (UP), the absence of the mace made the incident "an unofficial gathering of congressmen."
The incident delayed the SONA, which started more than an hour later than expected.
After the SONA, lawmakers gathered again to formalize the change in leadership, with the mace still nowhere to be found.
According to one report, the mace was supposedly in Alvarez's office. However, the spare mace was later found in the House archives.
It was brought to the session hall at 8:44 p.m. in time for the announcement of Arroyo's election as the new House Speaker, with 184 affirmative votes and 12 abstentions.
The mace used during Arroyo's oath-taking after the SONA, however, was different from the one used during Duterte's speech.
The mace used during Duterte's speech, with Alvarez as House Speaker, looks newer and has a white background, while the one used during Arroyo's oath-taking had a blue blackground and looks older.
According to Representative Fredenil Castro, the mace used during Arroyo's oath-taking was taken from the House archives.