As the business community and other sectors of Philippine society are waiting with bated breath to find out who will be the next Speaker of the House of Representatives, top Cabinet officials belonging to the Duterte government’s economic team met with incoming House members at a forum in Clark Freeport to discuss the priority legislative agenda in the 18th Congress.
Taking part in the “Vision Into Reality” forum were Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, Department of Transportation (DOTr) Secretary Arthur Tugade, and Department of Public Works & Highways (DPWH) Secretary Mark Villar.
The event was initiated by Representative-elect Alan Peter Cayetano and co-hosted by HOR leaders of the Nacionalista Party, PDP-Laban, and National Unity Party. It included a briefing on parliamentary procedures and congressional traditions, as well as a “tutorial” session on the fundamentals of the budget process, which proved very educational and useful to the neophyte legislators.
These first-timers in Congress directly engaged the DPWH and DOTr secretaries regarding infrastructure projects in their respective districts that could complement the flagship “Build Build Build” program of President Rodrigo Duterte. They also had an opportunity to discuss with the DOF chief how they can be more responsible in crafting measures requiring funds in line with the fiscal policies of the economic team.
As a former Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary, Cayetano was able to convince the Cabinet members to take time out from their busy schedules and offer assistance to the congressional rookies in drafting legislative measures to ensure that they are fiscally responsible and financially sustainable.
With his long experience in lawmaking and policy crafting, Cayetano succeeded in organizing such a rare gathering. He earned the respect of fellow Cabinet members during his DFA stint as the country’s top diplomat, as well as former colleagues in the Senate and the House when he was a senator for 10 years and a representative of Taguig-Pateros for three consecutive terms.
Some quarters, however, have sought to disparage Cayetano’s initiative as a form of campaigning in his bid to become House Speaker. He is one of the three front-runners in the speakership race and his gesture is being misinterpreted as a political move.
But isn’t it quite telling that the Cabinet officials who have the President’s ear were quick to accept his invitation to the forum? Perhaps they feel more at ease in engaging members of the lower chamber with a veteran legislator and ex-Cabinet member like Cayetano at the helm.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III apparently felt that way, too, when he said in a recent media interview that he would prefer working with Cayetano as Speaker when the 18th Congress opens and buckles down to work on July 22. It may be noted that only 12 out of 28 priority measures listed under the July 2016 common legislative agenda (CLA) have been enacted in the first three years of the Duterte government.
To facilitate the passage of the 16 other items in the CLA considered as unfinished business, Congress needs someone who is familiar with both the executive and legislative branches of government as its leader for the remaining half of the administration’s six-year term.
Among the present crop of aspiring Speakers, only Cayetano has the track record in defending and pursuing the reform agenda of the President to turn his vision into reality. His two main rivals, Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco and Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, lack the necessary experience in terms of global and national affairs. Who else can Duterte trust than his running mate in the 2016 elections?