By Genalyn Kabiling
Shepherding the passage of the proposed P3.757-trillion national budget for 2019 will be the first test of newly elected House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said as he stressed that Malacañang is ready to work with her.
“The President’s budget message for 2019 contains his key budget priorities for next year, which include intensifying infrastructure development, expanding programs on human development, building a more secure and peaceful nation, and other select major social programs,” Roque said.
“We will now gear up to ensure full and speedy rollout,” he added.
Duterte needs an economist
Deputy Speaker Rolando Andaya Jr., meanwhile, said the President’s call for Congress to further his tax reform agenda will require the expertise of an economist like Arroyo.
“The President is pushing for his TRAIN, the tax reforms that he wants to happen, I think that has four more packages,”said Andaya, Arroyo’s Budget secretary during her presidency.
“So you really need a person who is an economist, with experience in economic growth and all of these happened during her term,”Andaya added.
While she has held various lofty positions in government, the 71-year-old Arroyo is first and foremost an economist, Andaya said.
With future United States President Bill Clinton as her classmate, she studied for a couple of years at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service in Washington, D.C.
Arroyo graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Assumption College in 1968.
A decade later, she graduated with a Master’s Degree in Economics from the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU). In 1985, she gained her Doctorate Degree in Economics from the University of the Philippines (UP).
‘Very good relations’
Roque said the Palace has no problem working with Arroyo due to their “very good relations” even as he denied Malacañang’sinvolvement in the latest leadership change in the House of Representatives.
“It has always been the Palace position that we do not interfere in purely internal matters of the House. We are ready to work with the chosen leader of the House of Representatives. And because Mrs. – Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is now the House Speaker, we are of course able and ready to work with Speaker Arroyo,”Roque said during a Palace press briefing.
“We have had very good relations with Speaker Arroyo. She was one of the staunchest supporters of the President during the elections,” he said.
Roque said Duterte and Arroyo share the “same political agenda so we foresee absolutely no problems in working with Speaker Arroyo.”
The former President and now Pampanga congresswoman replaced Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez as House Speaker following a vote of the majority of the lawmakers in a chaotic leadership change last Monday.
The House power struggle derailed the ratification of the proposed Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) as well as delayed the President’s delivery of his State of the Nation Address (SONA) for an hour.
Roque admitted that the President held separate talks with Alvarez and Arroyo amid the leadership conflict prior to his delivery of the SONA.
But the Palace official said he was not privy to the details of the closed-door meetings, including whether the President was dismayed by the leadership row in the Lower House
Roque maintained that the Palace accepts the choice of House leadership in deference to the independent co-equal branch of government.
“Whatever the decision of the House is, the Palace has always been amenable to accepting the choice of leadership. In other words, the President being a lawyer really observes the principle of separation of powers and has accorded the House full respect particularly in its choice for its leaders,” he said.
Changes in the House
With the new leadership, House leaders expect changes in the committee chairmanships.
Southern Leyte Rep. Roger Mercado, Surigaodel Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, and Isabela Rep. Rodito Albano anticipated that new committee chairmen will be named by the House majority.
Currently, there are 72 House committees.
“Definitely, there will be changes in the committee leadership,” Mercado, chairman of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments, said.
Asked if he is willing to relinquish his post, he said, “If called to do so, willingly.”
Barbers, chairman of the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs who voted for Speaker Arroyo, said “there’s a big possibility that it will happen.”
Isabela Rep. Rodito Albano, a Majority Leader at the powerful Commission on Appointments who did not vote for Arroyo, also shared the same observation.
Deputy Speaker and Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro said there will be “minimal changes” and the House leaders who did not vote for Arroyo will “not necessarily” be replaced.
“If ever, it (changes) would be very minimal,” he said.
Deputy Speaker and Marikina Rep.MiroQuimbo, who was among the 12 House members who abstained from voting last night, said they are leaving up to the new majority the leadership changes in the influential committees.
AKO BICOL party-list Rep. RodelBatocabe, president of the House partylist coalition bloc, said: “Everything is fluid and certainly, in every change of leadership, we can also expect certain changes but I do not want to pre-empt any decision by Speaker GMA.”
Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes said he is happy Alvarez was replaced by Arroyo since she is a pro-life advocate.
“I am glad that GMA is the Speaker because she is a pro-life advocate and as President she abolished the death penalty. She is also an economist,”said Bastes.
“I am happy that Alvarez was ousted because of his extremely dangerous plans like no-election in 2019 in view of Federalism, a clear violation of our Constitution,” he added. (With reports from Charissa Luci, Leslie Aquino, and Ellson Quismorio)