Sara Duterte asserts power in baring Alan Cayetano's 'veiled threat' - analysts

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 23 2019 09:18 PM | Updated as of May 23 2019 11:29 PM


MANILA - Since last year, Taguig Representative-elect Alan Peter Cayetano has made clear his intent to become Speaker of the House of Representatives.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who had him as running mate in the 2016 presidential elections, supposedly wants him to become Speaker. He had served as the President's foreign affairs chief after failing in his vice presidential bid, resigning from the Senate.

But with the elections over, several names have surfaced as contenders to the House helm.

Among them is Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, a member of the administration party PDP-Laban who has been endorsed by the president's daughter and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.

On Wednesday, Duterte-Carpio confirmed that Cayetano did not ask for her endorsement as House Speaker.

In a statement on Tuesday, Duterte-Carpio revealed how Cayetano had allegedly made a "veiled threat" about her endorsement of Velasco, even as he himself did not seek her endorsement. She said Cayetano had visited her in Davao "sometime last year."

"Cong-elect Alan Peter Cayetano was correct when he said that he did not seek for my endorsement when he came to Davao to talk to me sometime last year," Duterte-Carpio said.

“He, however, came with a veiled threat, that if I endorse Rep. Velasco for Speaker, I would break up the ‘group.’ And this, he said, will affect the presidential elections of 2022,” she said, a seeming reference to the grouping of her father President Rodrigo Duterte's allies.

ABS-CBN has tried several times since Tuesday to contact Cayetano but his staff has declined interviews because of his busy schedule.

Duterte-Carpio's statement on Cayetano was part of a missive that tackled the House Speakership race, where she also clarified she did not recommend Leyte Representative-elect Martin Romualdez as the next leader of the chamber.

In the same message, the Davao mayor declined Davao Del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez's offer of reconciliation and called him "a very dangerous, machiavellian individual who does not deserve peace."

Duterte-Carpio was instrumental in Alvarez's ouster as Speaker in July last year - a move that pundits viewed as a showcase of the Davao mayor's political clout.

And on her latest remarks, political analysts gleaned no less: the President's daughter wields power, and her favor is sought.

Bobby Tuason of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) said: “The way I read Alan Peter Cayetano’s reaction, he doesn’t want the presidential daughter to interfere in the choice for the next House speaker.”

“He also knows that Sara Duterte has relatively strong influence considering that she maneuvered the removal of Bebot Alvarez last time from the House speakership,” Tuason said.
 
With Cayetano keeping silent, it is unclear how the “group,” which analysts said probably refers to the Hugpong ng Pagbabago alliance, could potentially break up, as he had allegedly warned Duterte-Carpio.

Professor Gene Lacza Pilapil of the University of the Philippines Department of Political Science said “Sara Duterte is clearly, I think, signaling how upset she is about Cayetano.”

Pilapil said horsetrading or negotiating positions in Congress is common practice but it is often done under wraps, and Duterte-Carpio’s decision to reveal such information was deliberate.

“This one would clearly embarrass Cayetano,” Pilapil said.

WANING POLITICAL STAR?

Both Tuason and Pilapil believe that Cayetano’s influence has been weakening.

Pilapil doubts that Cayetano could influence other lawmakers in the coalition since he is just one member of the Nacionalista Party.

“He is not THE Nacionalista Party,” he said, pointing to the Villars.

After Cayetano’s failed bid for the vice presidency as President Duterte’s running mate in 2016, he went back to the Senate and was hoping to become Senate President. But it was Aquilino Pimentel III, now president of PDP-Laban, who got the position because of the support of other senators.

“You have a perennial bridesmaid. Never a bride, in the case of Cayetano,” Pilapil said.

In 2017, Duterte appointed Cayetano as foreign affairs secretary but Pilapil said it did not improve the former senator’s situation, especially since he is not even part of the president's original "Davao group."

“Actually, some people view that he was assigned in the DFA, actually brings him further out from the power circle,” Pilapil said.

“He’s in a weak position a year ago. He’s in an even weaker position now because Sara seems to be signaling, ‘Don’t push me around,’” he added.

Pilapil said people should wonder why Cayetano, who has been known to be close to President Duterte, is even meeting with Duterte-Carpio.

“The mere fact, I think, that he has to talk to Sara Duterte... He might not have any access to the father or he does not have good access to the father. Why talk to the daughter if you could talk to the father?” Pilapil asked.

UNDERDOG IN SPEAKERSHIP RACE?

Tuason said Cayetano is clearly an “underdog” for the House speakership.

In addition to having many representatives vying for the position, PDP-Laban members dominate the House, with 3 in every 10 members of the chamber belonging to the party.

 

“I think the numbers should count,” Tuason said, adding that the next House Speaker would probably be endorsed by PDP-Laban with the help of Duterte-Carpio's Hugpong ng Pagbabago.

Other than Cayetano, Alvarez, Velasco and Romualdez, the President’s own son, incoming Davao City Rep. Paolo Duterte, is being suggested for the job.

The name of outgoing Sen. Loren Legarda, who has won as Antique lawmaker, has also been floated as among the contenders. She said she believes she could do the job.

Other names floated include House Majority Leader Fredenil Castro of the National Unity Party and Pampanga Rep. Aurelio Gonzales.

SARA THE POWERBROKER

But what analysts are more interested in is Duterte-Carpio's standing as a powerbroker.

Ateneo School of Government professor Edmund Tayao, also Executive Director of the Local Government Development Foundation (LOGODEF), said Duterte-Carpio probably started involving herself in the race to the speakership to address internal politics of administration groups.

“More on internal politics. Because they had problems with the administration party,” Tayao said.

Earlier, a faction of the PDP-Laban broke away and elected their own set of officials.

Tayao said that’s what happens when the “old timers” are not given importance over the turncoats.

“There is that sentiment (within the PDP-Laban),” Tayao said. “Kaya kailangan mo ng alternative group. If ikaw ang administration, ayaw mong mabawasan ang kakampi mo, gusto mo madagdagan.”

(That's why you need an alternative group. If you are the administration, you don't want to lose allies, you want to have more.)

He said Duterte-Carpio may have formed HNP to cover politicians who want to align themselves with the administration without being a member of the administration party.

With the President letting his daughter deal with Alvarez last year, it seems like he might leave her alone again as contenders court her favor on the runup to the vote for the House Speakership.

Pilapil said Duterte-Carpio has become an interesting character in Philippine politics.

“She’s the president’s daughter, she’s an outsider but weird…everyone listens to her, well at least considers her views,” he said. “The mere fact Cayetano has to talk to her is already a concession.”

Pilapil cited how Duterte-Carpio's dominance was not in Philippine politics but within her family.

“The father listens to the daughter or lets the daughter be,” he said.

Pilapil said the “trigger” for Duterte-Carpio was most likely her quarrel with Alvarez, who had allegedly called her a part of the opposition for forming a regional political party last year.

“When it was clear the President was not going to intervene to defend PDP-Laban as people started moving to Hugpong… It was a clear signal that Sara Duterte is a force on her own,” Pilapil said.

The House Speakership will definitely “play a role in the 2022 elections,” said Tuason, who believes Duterte-Carpio’s involvement in the race for leadership in the House might actually result in factions.

He pointed out that the House Speaker has the power to impeach the President.

Tuason said Duterte-Carpio’s only political leverage is the popularity of her father.

“It’s also difficult if you are too close to a President and you don’t know if he can sustain his popularity. Remember Mar Roxas,” Tuason said, referring to former president Benigno Aquino III's running mate in the 2010 elections who failed in his bid.

Roxas also failed in his attempt to return to the Senate in this year's elections.

Tayao pointed out that only one administration candidate has won the presidency.

“[I]n 1992 we had Fidel Ramos. Because there were 11 candidates running in 1992 so it’s quite easy to get the majority vote. FVR only got… less than 30 percent of the total votes cast,” he said.

That is why he believes Cayetano could still rebound.

“There’s still so much for Alan Cayetano to look forward to,” Tayao said.

He pointed out that the Cayetano family is still influential in Taguig and the rest of the Philippines since his sister, Senator-elect Pia Cayetano, ranked high in the senatorial race. His wife Lani also won as Taguig's 2nd District Representative, while his brother Lino won as Taguig City Mayor.

“Alan Cayetano’s future and that of other political leaders do not depend entirely on working closely with any political leaders.”