Are term-sharing agreements in Congress honored? Let's look at history

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 24 2020 02:13 PM

MANILA - While term-sharing agreements in politics are neither new nor unique to the House of Representatives, these rise and fall on the participants keeping their word.

For University of the Philippines Assistant Professor Jean Franco, term-sharing agreements are always hounded by questions on whether they would be enforced when the expected switchover is supposed to happen. It's a test on whether the participants will keep their word. 

"It is not only a test of the participants' word but his or her sense of honor and respect for the chamber. It is bad enough that they have to do a term-sharing, which in my opinion is political patronage at work. They have to at the very least respect the agreement. Not respecting it would further result in a loss of trust for the chamber as a supposed institution of "honorable men and women," Franco said. 

Franco recalled that at the Senate, the chamber's presidency has been shared.

"(Senate Minority Leader Franklin) Drilon has shared the senate presidency many times. But I think they all ended well. Although of course, there is always the spectre of whether the agreement will hold. A term-sharing agreement is successful when there are no external factors involved: a death, political instability, political realignments, etc. "

Deputy Speaker Neptali Gonzales II could not recall a term-sharing agreement for the House Speakership in the history of the House but he remembered a term-sharing in committee chairmanships and seats in the Commission on Appointments. 

He recalled that in the 12th Congress, Representatives Rolando Andaya and Joey Salceda shared the term for the chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee, an arrangement that would be repeated in the 14th Congress by Lagman and Junie Cua.

Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez, who lost his speakership in a coup in 2018, is against any term-sharing agreements because these tend to be unstable. 

"Hindi ako sang-ayon sa term-sharing, this is not about the speakership, this is about the country. Divisive 'yan eh,” he said. 

Alvarez need not look too far for the last example of how badly a term-sharing deal ended.

In the 15th Congress, Representatives Edcel Lagman and Danilo Suarez supposedly had a term-sharing agreement for the Minority Leadership. But on January 24, 2012, when the deal was supposedly set to be enforced, then Minority Leader Lagman maintained that the term-sharing agreement for the Minority leadership was baseless and non-existent as said agreement was only limited to the speakership of the House had they won against Quezon City Rep. Sonny Belmonte 

"The term-sharing being claimed by the Suarez camp is baseless and non-existent. The agreement was limited to a splitting of the term of the Speaker had I won as then Lakas-Kampi candidate. Representative Suarez offered the term-sharing agreement as a condition for withdrawing his bid to contest my candidacy for Speaker within the then Lakas-Kampi group."

Lagman would resign from the minority leadership, paving the way for Suarez to assume the post. Back then, Suarez said: "I had hoped to accept the post of Minority Leader under different and better circumstances. For my part, a gentlemen’s agreement to the term sharing exists and I merely expected and insisted on its implementation. Clearly, Congressman Lagman and I should agree to disagree regarding how this event played out"

But the messy dynamics of leadership changes doesn't stop within the chamber as seen in 2018. The coup that installed House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo led to changes in the national budget, as the Appropriations Panel always has to have a close working relationship with both the President and the Speaker. 

Changes in the 2019 national budget that Arroyo's speakership passed were eventually vetoed by President Rodrigo Duterte upon the recommendation of his Cabinet.

Gonzales pointed out that with Cayetano at the helm, this wouldn't happen again as he was a senator and cabinet member. Cayetano had served as Duterte's Foreign Affairs Secretary.

"So this is the only time in the history of the House that a Speaker was once a upon a time both a former Senator and a Cabinet Secretary and who has had a working relationship with the current crop of sitting senators and cabinet secretaries. This obviously has helped a lot in fast-tracking the legislative mill."

In March this year, Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab was replaced as Appropriations Committee Chair by first-term lawmaker ACT CIS Rep. Eric Yap, a close friend of Deputy Speaker Paolo Duterte. 

His removal came after the Department of Budget and Management said that Congress-introduced increases in appropriations and new budgetary items in the 2020 budget which did not undergo the usual budget evaluation process would be subjected to compliance with documentation requirements before these could be spent. "This shall ensure that government funds shall be made available only for projects which are implementation-ready for the year and aligned with government priorities. "

Yap confirmed last Friday that House members are concerned about these projects, where funding has been marked as "For Later Release." 

Such was the case for the projects Negros Oriental 3rd District Rep. Arnolfo Teves pinpointed in Cayetano's home turf of Taguig and Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte's home province of Camarines Sur worth P8 billion and P11 billion in the proposed 2021 budget.


"'Yung Taguig kasi karamihan doon FLR (for later release) eh kaya hindi mo siya masasabing new projects, 'yun 'yung mga last year na project na imbes na mapunta this year na 2020 nangyari, may mga FLR nilagay sa 2021. Kung titignan mo ang new projects ng Taguig di po siya ganun kalaki, especially mga kampo, mga bases po nakakarga po lahat 'yun," Yap said in an earlier interview. 

On Wednesday, during the interpellation of Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, Public Works Undersecretary for Planning Maria Catalina Cabral said that funds for all projects marked "For Later Release" in 2020 amounted to P271 billion. 

Half of these will be funded this year, and the rest will be funded next year. 

"The total FLR in 2020 is around P271 billion Mr. Chair... the half of the P271 billion will be released this year and the other half is included in the 2021 DPWH proposal," Cabral said.

Gonzales, meanwhile, made the assurance that Cayetano is making sure no one is left behind.

"But more than his experience, he has demonstrated his willingness to reach out with sincerity and concern to all members of the House. He tries to understand and accommodate every time the needs of each member the best way that he can. At naniniwala ako na naramdaman naman lahat ng miyembro ng kamara ang efforts niya at init ng kanyang pakikisama at liderato," he said. 

Echoing other Cayetano allies before him, Gonzales said he believes Cayetano would keep his post in a free vote on the House Speakership, adding that the lawmakers may not want to switch horses in the middle of a pandemic. 

"If the House will be left alone to decide the issue of Speakership, then I think, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano will remain as the head of the House of Representatives. At kung mayroon pang makakadagdag sa desisyon siguro ng mga miyembro ng kamara na panatilihin si Alan Peter Cayetano bilang Speaker of the House sa panahon ngayon - ay itong kasalukuyang sitwasyon na siguro ng global pandemic ng COVID-19. Masalimuot masyado ang sitwasyon sa ating bansa at ng buong mundo sa ngayon," he said.

On Teleradyo’s On the Spot Tuesday, House Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund "LRay" Villafuerte, a close ally Cayetano ally, said while their camp would honor the term-sharing agreement, the members of the House are not keen on having a leadership change.

“Ang term-sharing ay mag-uumpisa naman 'yan ng November… Ngayon, sabi ko, as that nears, kami we will honor that, pero kung tatanungin mo rin ang mga congressman, ayaw nila ng palitan,” Villafuerte said.

The last time Cayetano addressed the issue in a press release, he said: "Any talk about leadership, about change, maapektuhan ang budget. Ayoko po na ang budget ay mahalo sa politika."

Cayetano said he would not hold on to his post if majority of the House wants him out but added he would not allow some lawmakers to hijack the budget deliberations using the leadership issue.

“Ipakita niyo lang sa akin na ang majority ay ayaw na sa akin at magiging smooth ang transition natin. Pero hindi niyo po ako maba-blackmail, maha-hijack na payagan po ang corruption, payagan ang pork, payagan po ang favoritism o sabihin niyo dahil bente kayo o trenta kayo, lakihan 'yung pondo niyo, hindi po. Kung ano kailangan ng distrito niyo, pag-usapan natin. Pero hindi po ko papayag dun sa pagtutulakan tayo,” he said.

When the term-sharing agreement came into effect during the Speakership election in 2019, Velasco and his camp voted for Cayetano. Davao City Rep. Paolo Duterte, who became Deputy Speaker for Political Affairs, nominated Cayetano, a motion that was seconded by Velasco and Representative Martin Romualdez, who would become Majority Leader.

Cayetano faced off with Manila Representative Bienvenido Abante, who was nominated by Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin. Abante became Minority Leader instead. Thus, 266 voted for Cayetano, 28 voted for Abante 2, abstained and one registered a "no" vote.

The reorganization of the House then followed, with deputy speakerships, seats in the Commission on Appointments and House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal and committee chairmanships allocated on proportional representation among parties who voted for Cayetano. 

This means that among those who voted for the Speaker, Party A gave 50% of votes, Party B gave 25%, Party C gave 20% and party D gave 5%. The same percentages applied when it came to dividing the positions. 

Specific congressmen were named by these parties from among their members in consultation with the leadership, the parties' own preference for committees and, sometimes, the sentiments of the executive branch and the business community.

Thus, if the term sharing is to be enforced, it maybe expected that the same time-consuming and divisive process could follow.