Masters of the House – Manila Standard

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House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and his sidekick, Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, are trying so hard to ape President Rodrigo Duterte, it’s painful to watch. And the fact that they’re failing so miserably is not really a knock on their macho cred as much as it is a revelation of their lack of understanding of the president’s role and that of their own, as leaders of the House of Representatives.

I don’t know if anyone’s noticed, as well, that Alvarez and Fariñas are so alike, they’re practically twins. But more on that later.

I’m glad that Malacañang distanced itself yesterday from Alvarez’s latest brain fart, which made the speaker say he wants Duterte to continue imposing martial law in the whole of Mindanao until the end of the president’s term in 2022. Even Duterte has not gone that far, saying only that he wants military rule to go on in his island hometown until the terrorist threat is eradicated.

And I’m also elated that the Philippine Constitutional Association, through its chairman Manuel Lazaro and president Martin Romualdez, has asked to Supreme Court to intervene and put an end to Fariñas’ bullying of the Court of Appeals. This will probably not sit well with Fariñas and Alvarez, who have already declared that they will not appreciate any intervention by the high court in their campaign to continue detaining the so-called “Ilocos Six,” despite the House leaders’ tenuous legal position that they can and will jail anyone who doesn’t give the right answers during House investigations.

My own belief is that the two House leaders are locked in a competition to out-Duterte Duterte himself. They sure have the swagger down; but I don’t think they truly understand that a) they only look like cheap copies, and b) their role as House leaders is way different—and a lot more constricting—than that of the president.

The immense powers of the presidency, compared to those of a House speaker or majority whip, are immediately clear: While the president, especially a popular one like Duterte, is in command of the entire executive branch and enjoys a national mandate, a House leader’s authority is limited by his election to represent a particular district, just like any congressman, and by the agreement of his fellow House members.

But why do Alvarez and Fariñas act the way they do anyway? I don’t know, but if they don’t change—and soon—they could get in real trouble.

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But I said that Alvarez and Fariñas were acting so alike, they might as well be twins. Here’s why:

Both House leaders think nothing of bringing their personal political vendettas before the House and escalating local problems into national crises.

We’ve already seen how Alvarez brought his purely personal spat against his former friend and political patron,d fellow Davao del Norte Rep. Antonio Floirendo, to the national stage, which the speaker used to harass the business of his colleague’s family.

By seeking the nullification of the Floirendos’ long-standing joint venture agreement with the Bureau of Corrections, Alvarez sought to punish his former bosom body for the wrongs committed by Floirendo’s lover on Alvarez’s own. And yes, this is one more thing that makes Alvarez different from Duterte—whom I have never heard of using his vast powers to get back at his personal foes.

Alvarez has been bullying agencies in the executive branch in order to nullify the contract of the Floirendos’ Tagum Development Corp. And he is succeeding because no congressman dares to point out the error of what he’s doing.

In Ilocos, meanwhile, Fariñas has caused the detention for over a month already of six Ilocos Norte local executives, all because he wants the Marcos family—which resurrected his moribund political career just like Floirendo once backed and bankrolled Alvarez’s own declining fortunes—to not stand in the way of his daughter’s plans to replace him as congressman in 2019. And with the enthusiastic help of Alvarez, Fariñas has triggered a crisis between the House and the judiciary, which the House leaders claim has no jurisdiction over them or their rules on the open-ended detention of their “resource speakers.”

Like Alvarez, Fariñas has been getting away with escalating a local problem into a national crisis because no congressman wants to cross “Majo,” as the Ilocano congressman is called.

Of course, the only person who can stop these two from their depredations is Duterte himself. And Duterte is apparently staying on the sidelines of these political intramurals among some of his most prominent supporters, for reasons only the President knows.

Of course, Floirendo and Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos are known to be particularly close to the president. Floirendo is, on paper, the biggest contributor to Duterte’s presidential run, while Marcos is one of only three governors whom the President says backed his nationwide campaign.

But one day, I suspect that Duterte will wade in and tell everyone concerned to “stop it, just stop it.” Until then, though, I expect the House twins to continue doing what they’re doing—never mind if they’re not really working to help the Duterte administration and merely abusing what limited powers they enjoy to pursue their personal agendas.

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