'A difficult journey': The patience and precision of Lord Allan Velasco

Jauhn Etienne Villaruel, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 13 2020 03:41 PM | Updated as of Oct 13 2020 11:44 PM

House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco gestures as he listens to statements of support during the special session of the House of Representatives in Quezon City on Tuesday, after 186 lawmakers voted to ratify his election as the chamber's new leader at the Celebrity Sports Plaza the previous day. Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano announced his resignation as House Speaker through Facebook, after the Velasco camp held the session. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — No one challenges Lord Allan Velasco in the game of waiting.

In his relatively short political career, Velasco, 42, has mastered the virtue of patience and the art of precision, qualities that catapulted him to the helm of the House of Representatives.

On Tuesday, the Marinduque lawmaker officially took the reins of the lower chamber of Congress, formalizing an unprecedented and legally-contested vote outside the premises of the Batasan Pambansa the previous day.

On his "first" inaugural address on Monday, held in a makeshift session hall at an events place in Quezon City, suggesting urgency, Velasco confessed:

"It has been a difficult journey to get to where we are, one fraught with many frustrations and complications But then, we are all here.”

That was Velasco’s initial moment of victory and relief, and he was reveling in it, following months of tension-filled power struggle that crossed legislative boundaries and even threatened the country's pandemic war chest. 

"I was asked why I would want to lead the House of Representatives during the worst possible time, in the midst of a global pandemic that has crippled governments and upended our lives... But why not?” Velasco told a crowd of lawmakers who gathered at the Celebrity Sports Plaza to back his Speakership bid.

Velasco had to assert the enforcement of a "gentleman's agreement" he had with Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano for a 15-21 months term-sharing on the House Speakership in the 18th Congress, a deal brokered last year by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Cayetano, who was Duterte's 2016 elections running mate but lost, wasn't prepared to hand over the leadership this month, citing the need to pass the proposed national budget for 2021.

"We commit to pass laws that are responsive to the needs of our fellow Filipinos here and abroad - laws focused on jobs, the economy, health care, food on the table, peace and order, and clean, sustainable energy. And most of all, today's events would ensure that the President's call for a timely, legal, and constitutional approval of the 2021 budget will be complied with," vowed Velasco on Monday.

The first wait

Velasco was once also at the mercy of the powers that be at the House of Representatives.

Way before he was embroiled in the middle of 2020’s biggest political drama in the country, Velasco had to put up a fight to take his place in the “august” chamber.

In 2013, his bid for a second term in Congress as a representative of Marinduque’s lone district was foiled by Regina Ongsiako-Reyes. The defeat did not sit well with Velasco.

In his protest, Velasco argued Reyes was a US citizen, thus ineligible to occupy an elective post. While both the Supreme Court and the Commission on Elections took his side, the leadership of the House of Representatives at the time did not.

The Liberal Party-dominated Congress then, Velasco claimed in hindsight, prevented him from taking the position he was entitled to.

"LP [did] not [make] me sit in my second term in Congress,” he jokingly said in an interview with ANC in 2019.

Velasco waited for years until, with 2 days left before the end of the 16th Congress in 2016, the House Electoral Tribunal finally proclaimed him as the real Marinduque representative.

The ‘probinsyano’ fiction

In his inaugural speech as "Speaker" on Monday, Velasco took the character of a “probinsyano” and banked on the same narrative used by a former Davao City Mayor now installed in the Malacañang.

"Ako'y nagpapasalamat sa ating mahal na Pangulo… for inspiring young government servants like me na hindi hadlang ang pagiging probinsyano para tayo ay makapagserbisyo… na ang iyong probinsyano congressman from a small province like Marinduque can be elected Speaker of the House of Representatives,” Velasco said.

However, Velasco’s privileged upbringing and his political pedigree betray these claims to the role he wanted to play.

Velasco is the son of incumbent Torrijos, Marinduque mayor Lorna Velasco, and former Supreme Court associate Justice and now Marinduque Governor Presbitero Velasco, Jr.

He graduated with a business degree from De La Salle University and took up law at the University of Sto. Tomas.

"I was a working student because I was working for my dad at that time,” Velasco said of his time in law school.

He was admitted to the Bar in 2005, and eventually found his way back to his province, working as the administrator in the capitol.

There, he said, was when he heard a “clamor” for him to run as congressman.

In 2010, at the age of 31, he did, and won, launching his career as an elective official.

In the same ANC interview last year, Velasco had no qualms admitting he belongs to a political dynasty, and that he finds nothing wrong in such a political anomaly.

"I don’t have anything against political dynasties. I have friends who are political dynasties in their provinces and districts. The only time I'm against a political dynasty is when they do not deliver.”

“Honestly, there are really no political dynasties. Because it’s the people who elect their leaders. So, if the people don’t like who’s running, then they won’t be sitting in their proper place. In other words, we got the mandate of the people,” Velasco said.

He claimed that Marinduque "changed a lot" when he and his mother were in power. "It really depends on that family who's serving that constituency, whether or not they're doing something good, or they're just abusing their province or their constituency," he said.

Dr. Ronald Mendoza, dean of the Ateneo School of Government had said "fat political dynasties" or families with members simultaneously holding government positions are strong indicators of poverty and underdevelopment.

Mendoza, who has researched political dynasties in the Philippines, said concentrating power among political families is “very contrary to democracy and meritocracy.”

The final wait

"It’s actually more of frustrations. Frustrations, mainly because, in the past few years, we’ve heard about zero budgets given to some congressmen,” Velasco said last year when asked why he wanted to be a Speaker.

Velasco was then a relatively unremarkable lawmaker. He had a lackluster performance in his 2 previous terms, critics have claimed.

But Velasco was pushed into the national consciousness when Sara Duterte, the President'’s daughter credited for ousting a previous Speaker, endorsed him as the next leader of the lower chamber of Congress.

It was a blessing that any political animal would want to have. 

But Cayetano - who had already served the two chambers of Congress and was once the country's top diplomat - was another powerful contender to the post.

While Cayetano was known to be articulate and a master at political theatrics, Velasco said he would be a “consensus builder” as he made his case for the Speakership last year.

“I'm a friendly guy. I listen to people. So, my type of leadership will be a consensus builder. I’ll be a listening Speaker… On top of listening, I will be very decisive.”

At that juncture, Cayetano prevailed, becoming an early beneficiary in their term-sharing deal. And Velasco had to wait until this month.

The high-stakes House drama these past several weeks reached its climax Tuesday, with Cayetano finally giving way after being ousted by majority of their colleagues, and Velasco's long wait already over.

"This is for our people, for this august body, our Congress, for the word of honor of our beloved President Rodrigo Duterte, and for God who makes all this happen. To the Filipino people, we will not let you down," Velasco said in a speech after his official installation Tuesday as the new House Speaker.

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