May 19, 2023
MANILA – Former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, known for engineering leadership shakedowns in the House of Representatives and described by President Marcos as his “secret weapon” in international relations, has suffered a rare demotion.
From holding the de facto No. 2 post in the chamber as the senior deputy Speaker, Arroyo was abruptly stripped of the ceremonial title at the close of Wednesday’s plenary session, though a House leader was quick to say the move was meant to “unburden” her of the “heavy load.”
Arroyo joined the ranks of seven other deputy Speakers, while a fellow Pampanga lawmaker, Rep. Aurelio Gonzales Jr., moved up as the new senior deputy Speaker.
Arroyo’s replacement swiftly gave rise to speculations of a rift in the administration and another ouster plot being hatched in the House, which is led by Speaker Martin Romualdez, a cousin of the President.
Majority Leader Manuel Jose Dalipe gave a short explanation of the sudden switch, saying Gonzales was elected to “unburden his ‘cabalen,’ former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, of the heavy load from the position.”
But nothing in the House rules states that the senior deputy Speaker has any extra functions besides a symbolic one.
Among other duties and powers, deputy Speakers are expected to assume the Speaker’s duties and powers in the latter’s absence or temporary incapacity and in case of resignation, removal, permanent incapacity or death until such time that a new Speaker is chosen and to preside over the session when the Speaker does not preside.
Arroyo gave a terse statement on Wednesday night: “It’s the prerogative of the House.”
On Thursday, a number of House leaders released statements that, far from quelling the coup rumors, seemed to allude to them instead, by declaring their loyalty to the Speaker and the President.
Gonzales, in a statement, said his party, the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), “expressed its full support” for Marcos’ administration and Romualdez’s leadership in the House.
“As in the past, as a loyal member of the majority, I will always support the Speaker and will continue to work for the benefit of my constituents in the third district of Pampanga and of my cabalen in the province.”
Gonzales is the treasurer of the PDP-Laban while Arroyo is Romualdez’s party mate in the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (CMD), along with 69 other lawmakers.
In February, the party elected Romualdez as its president, Vice President Sara Duterte as its chair, and Arroyo as its chair emeritus.
Deputy Speaker and Nacionalista Party spokesperson Camille Villar also issued a statement stating her party’s “unequivocal support to the leadership of Speaker Martin Romualdez of the House of Representatives as we remain fully committed to the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to its vision of a united and prosperous nation.”
Minority Leader Marcelino Libanan, who served as immigration chief during the Arroyo administration, also assured Romualdez of the minority bloc’s support for his leadership.
“The minority is absolutely committed to our partnership with Speaker Romualdez and the entire House leadership, as we seek common ground to swiftly create more jobs and livelihood opportunities, lift a greater number of households from poverty, and move the country forward,” he said.
A source close to the House leadership said there was speculation that a plan to replace Romualdez may have been hatched around April to early May when Arroyo held meetings with trusted allies outside the country.
“She met with a group of legislators in Singapore and South Korea. This was before the session resumed this May,” the source said.
The source also noted that shortly after the meetings, a congressman got a call from another lawmaker who discussed Arroyo’s “return as Speaker” over the phone.
“The congressman who received the call informed [Romualdez] about it,” the source said.
Before this happened, the source added that it already seemed that all was not well between Arroyo and Romualdez, or the Marcos camp in general.
“There was a feeling that Arroyo was upstaging President Marcos during his foreign trips. She would be talking to the hosts of the countries where the Philippine delegation is visiting, engaging dignitaries in conversations before the President arrived. Somehow, this was not taken well,” the source said.
Arroyo has joined seven of the President’s 13 foreign trips so far.
In November, during a meeting with business leaders for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Thailand, Marcos referred to Arroyo as his “secret weapon,” as she was the veteran in international affairs while he was a newcomer.
Nipped in the bud
Wednesday’s reshuffle fueled rumors that Arroyo’s demotion was a “message” to the former President aimed at nipping any power play in the bud.
In 2018, Arroyo famously orchestrated the ouster of then Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and took over as the new House leader during the administration of then President Rodrigo Duterte.
At the time, she was widely believed to have enjoyed the support of Duterte’s daughter, then Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, now the Vice President.