Romualdez's allies speak out after Sara Duterte refuses to mention Speaker's surname

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 08 2023 05:25 PM | Updated as of Jun 08 2023 10:01 PM

MANILA (UPDATED) - Talks of a coup at the House of Representatives had started to simmer down by the time the 19th Congress adjourned sine die last May 31. 

But the apparent peace was shattered again less than a week later after Vice-President Sara Duterte's remark at an Office of the Vice-President event.

On Monday, Duterte reaffirmed in her speech to the OVP's partners and supporters in Pasay City her friendship with President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. but not before a remark that caught the attention of supporters of the president's cousin, House Speaker Martin Romualdez.

"Before anything else I would like to acknowledge the all out support of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr to the Office of the Vice President. Hindi ko na banggitin ang middle initial niya," Duterte said.

"Alam mo Apo, alam mo yan na mahal kita. If you noticed po noong during the campaign doon po kami naging magkaibigan ni Apo BBM and kung nakikita niyo sa mga footage kung merong rally magkatabi kami minsan nagtatawanan kami kasi merong mga private jokes between me and him," Duterte added.

Two days later, Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga would begin what would eventually be a series of pro-Romualdez press statements by six congressmen.

But while Representatives LRay Villafuerte, Johnny Pimentel, and House Majority Leader Manuel Jose Dalipe would skip any direct reference to Duterte and stick to extolling Romualdez's achievements while calling for an end to political bickering, Barzaga pointedly claimed in his press release that Romualdez had a role in Duterte's vice-presidency.

Barzaga's press release, which referred to him as a former president of the National Unity Party (NUP), pointed out that Romualdez tremendously helped in pushing for the vice presidential candidacy of Duterte, who was eventually recruited to join Lakas.

It also said that Romualdez became close to the Vice President because he was among those who convinced her to run for the post under the UniTeam ticket, which was headed by his cousin, who is now the President.

"The Speaker worked hard for then Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte's vice presidential bid because he genuinely believed that she would make a difference. Their rift is sad news and I hope that it will be mended soon," Barzaga said in the press release.

Barzaga not only referred to Duterte's refusal to mention the president's middle initial, but also Duterte's social media post about a character in Filipino mythology.

"At the height of the rumors of the alleged coup against Romualdez last month, Duterte posted a cryptic message on her social media accounts. "In your ambition, do not be tambaloslos," Duterte said, without naming the person she was referring to.

Wiktionary defines tambaloslos as "a mythical creature with a large mouth and penis found in Visayan, Bicolano and Mindanao folklore," the press release said.

Barzaga added that Romualdez has taken the high road and that he has never attacked the vice-president.

"The Speaker held his horses and remained focused on his job as the leader of the House of Representatives amid this political rift. He never fired back with insults of his own. That shows strength of character," Barzaga said.

Duterte however has never mentioned Romualdez by name nor who is the "tambaloslos" she is alluding to. But she did leave the Romualdez led-Lakas CMD, resigning from the party while citing "political toxicity " and "execrable political powerplay.," after the Romualdez-led House demoted former President Gloria Arroyo from Senior Deputy Speaker to Speaker amid talks of a coup. 

Arroyo denied engineering to unseat Romualdez, who for his part had only said that moves to destabilize the House should be nipped in the bud.

Another NUP lawmaker, Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte, also praised Romualdez while calling for an end to the bickering. Unlike Barzaga, he made no reference to Duterte.

In his statement, Villafuerte warned that political discord would only put at risk "the superb level of cooperation and hard work" by the supermajority alliance in the legislature which he said has helped President Marcos.

“Improving the lives of all Filipinos, as committed by President Marcos, is the priority in the House on the watch of Speaker Martin (Romualdez), in lieu of divisive politics, hence the need for greater unity,” he said.

By the end of the day on Wednesday, Duterte would fire back, especially at Barzaga.

"Speaker Martin Romualdez had absolutely nothing to do with my decision to run for Vice President. To say that he 'tremendously helped in pushing for' my Vice Presidential bid is acutely inaccurate — an insult to thousands of groups and individuals who incessantly implored me to reconsider an earlier decision not to join national politics," Duterte said in her statement.

"And it was Senator Imee Marcos who eventually persuaded me to run as Vice President — and it was a decision sealed only after President Bongbong Marcos agreed to the conditions I set before running for VP. There was no Speaker Romualdez in the picture. Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. was obviously badly informed or made to believe a lie," Duterte said.

Duterte also lashed out at the behavior of what she called" sycophants." 

"Meanwhile, a person who cannot distinguish between attack and humor has no place in politics — especially if one fails to understand that political bickering is just a facet of democracy and should not be used to equate with governance. On the one hand, how the recent political developments have become an opportunity for sycophants is quite amusing," Duterte said.

Duterte maintained her support for the president.

"Let me reiterate this, however — the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr is stable and strong. It has my all-out support and the support of the majority of the Filipino people," Duterte said.

Reacting to Duterte's statement, Senator Imee Marcos said everything Duterte said is true but it doesn't matter to her anymore since both her brother and someone who she treats as a sister, won the elections.

"Totoo lahat ng sinabi ni Vice President Sara (Duterte) subalit hindi ko na inisip na angkinin pa or pag-usapan pa dahil ang mahalaga, nanalo naman ang dalawa na malalapit sa akin - ang aking kapatid at ang kinakapatid ko nang turing, si Inday Sara," she said Thursday.

The following day, Sta. Rosa Rep. Dan Fernandez opted for a softer approach to Duterte, appealing to her for unity while Dalipe and Pimentel again reiterated calls to end the bickering while praising Romualdez. 

Dalipe on Thursday said the House will stay the course in its commitment to pass the priority measures of the president, ignore distractions and prepare for Marcos Jr.'s State of the Nation Address next month.

For his part, Senior Deputy Speaker Aurelio Gonzales stuck to praising Romualdez.

"One thing is clear: Speaker Martin has created an atmosphere of certainty and trust. His strong, compassionate leadership brought all of us together to work on a single vision: to pass measures focused on achieving a prosperous, inclusive and resilient Philippines,” Gonzales said.

As this developed, netizens dug up Duterte's speech back in June 2022, where she thanked Romualdez for his efforts as her campaign manager.

Romualdez, meanwhile, has kept quiet on the issue.