Palace hands off in House fight

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — MALACAÑANG is likely to remain neutral in the speakership race shaping up between Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. and Cebu Rep. Pablo Garcia, a top Palace official said yesterday.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said since both De Venecia and Garcia belonged to parties in the ruling coalition, the Palace would be able to work with either.

Last Sunday, Rep. Luis Villafuerte, the president of the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino or Kampi, said his party would seek to wrest the speakership from De Venecia, who heads the largest coalition partner, the Lakas Christian-Muslim Democrats.

“The Palace need not take a position on the speakership fight,” Ermita said. “In the first place, the House is an independent constitutional body.”

Ermita said it would be up to the members of the House of Representatives to decide if De Venecia would win a fifth term as speaker, or if another lawmaker would take his place.

De Venecia has been boasting that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had assured him of her support for his re-election as a congressman for the Fourth District of Pangasinan and in his bid to become speaker again.

The President’s support was believed to be a major factor behind De Venecia’s landslide victory over his opponent, Dagupan City Mayor Benjie Lim, in the congressional race.

The President had persuaded another aspirant in the district, former National Police Chief Arturo Lomibao, to drop out of the race and support De Venecia instead.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno had also been considering a run for Congress and a bid to become speaker, but the President dissuaded him from leaving the Cabinet.

Congressmen yesterday said the looming speakership race would not hurt ties between Lakas and Kampi, which they said remained strong.

Lakas-CMD Reps. Exequiel Javier of Antique and Edwin Uy of Isabela said both parties were able to set aside their differences during the recently concluded elections.

Uy denied allegations that Kampi was challenging De Venecia as a tactic to gain better committee chairmanships for its members.

“That’s baseless and unfair to members of Lakas and Kampi,” Uy said. “The false intimation aims to paint members of the alliance as hungry for power or committee chairmanships.”

Some opposition lawmakers said the Kampi challenge was a ploy to deprive the minority of committee assignments.

Uy did little to dispel these concerns.

“There is no House rule prohibiting allied parties from holding both the majority and minority positions,” he said.