Majority in Visayan bloc back Velasco for speaker, Benitez says

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BY CARLA P. GOMEZ

The majority of the Visayan bloc congressmen, including those from Negros Island, were among those who voted for Rep. Lord Allan Velasco (Marinduque Lone District) as the new Speaker of the House yesterday, Rep. Francisco “Kiko” Benitez (Neg. Occ., 3rd District) said.

Velasco, after his election, thanked the Visayan bloc representatives for their support.

A total of 186 congressmen, or the majority of the 299 members of the House of Representatives, elected Velasco as the new Speaker but allies of Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano called the move “illegal”.

“The majority has spoken. Let the mandate of the will of the majority of the people’s representatives be respected,” Benitez said.

Benitez said he nominated Velasco on behalf of the Visayan Bloc.

He said 15 months ago, the majority members of Congress entered into an agreement among themselves to support and vote for Cayetano in accordance with a term sharing agreement brokered by the President.

Under the term-sharing deal brokered by President Rodrigo Duterte, Cayetano would serve as the House Speaker for the first 15 months, or until October 2020 while Velasco would take over and assume the position for the remaining 21 months or until 18th Congress ends in 2022.

“The last fifteen months has seen a generally harmonious congress abiding by this agreement and supportive of Cayetano, but the time has come to honor the term sharing,” Benitez said.

“The budget should not be held hostage by acts of power play brinkmanship that endangers generations of Filipinos in this time of economic recession and health crisis,” Benitez added.

Rep. Joseph Stephen Paduano (Abang Lingkod Partylist) said that aside from him and Benitez, those who voted for Velasco on the floor from Negros Occidental were representatives Gerardo Valmayor (1st District), Genaro Alvarez (6th District) and Greg Gasataya (Bacolod).

Paduano said he did not vote for Cayetano from the start. During their 2019 inaugural session Cayetano would not have become speaker without the intervention of the president, who brokered the term sharing agreement, because he did not have the numbers, he said.

A source said Rep. Ma. Lourdes Arroyo (Neg. Occ., 5th District) also voted for Velasco.

Negros Oriental representatives Manuel Sagarbarria (2nd District) and Arnie Tevez (3rd District) said they voted for Velasco, stressing that the term sharing agreement should be honored.

Rep. Jocelyn Sy Limkaichong (Neg. Or., 1st District) and Rep. Juliet Ferrer (Neg. Occ., 4th District) could not be reached for comment.

Rep. Leo Rafael Cueva (Neg. Occ., 2nd District) said there was no voting that happened in Congress yesterday, pointing out that a special session will start today yet.

Velasco said he hopes for a “peaceful transition” of the speakership of the House of Representatives.

“We commit to pass laws that are responsive to the needs of our fellow Filipinos here and abroad, laws focused on jobs, the economy, healthcare, food on the table, peace, and order, and clean and 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,” he said.

Cayetano, however, slammed the session held by lawmakers outside the Batasang Pambansa complex as “fake”.

“Their purpose is to cause disruption. The last time I checked, ang Celebrity Sports Club is not Congress. They are throwing the Constitution to waste. They held a fake session,” Cayetano said in a press conference.

Cayetano’s camp also released a copy of a manifesto signed by a total of 200 House members showing their support for him amid alleged ouster moves by the Velasco camp.*with a report from PNA

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