By Genalyn Kabiling
Tempers flared as two Congress leaders battled for a seat beside President Duterte during the State of the Nation Address (SONA) last Monday.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque bared that the camp of former President and Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo questioned the presence of Davao Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez in a holding room with the President before his SONA.
Arroyo, who took her oath as House Speaker replacing Alvarez a few minutes before the President’s arrival, was staying in another room.
“They were like saying, ‘Why is he inside? He is no longer Speaker,’” Roque said during a Palace press briefing, sharing the conversations he overheard in Congress.
“Oh my goodness, you better believe it. Tempers were really flaring all over the place. But they all have to behave, behave because the President was around of course,” he added.
The palpable tension somehow eased after President met with Arroyo and Alvarez amid a leadership power struggle before delivering his SONA.
Roque, however, said he was not privy to the details of the President’s separate meeting with the two lawmakers.
“I don’t think he talked to them at the same time so he talked to them one after the other. But I have no idea what he talked about,” he said. “I really have no idea other than when he started his speech, he seems fine. He seem fine to me,” he added.
Roque admitted though that Duterte, a former Davao City lawmaker, was no stranger to leadership conflict in the House.
“He lived through or he went through a Congress where they had two Speakers so he’s not a stranger to these things,” he said.
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, meantime, also helped mediate between the two lawmakers to ensure the House conflict would not get in the way of the President’s delivery of the SONA.
“I could say that to an extent Executive Secretary Medialdea somehow mediated between the contending parties, because of course the concern was it is a constitutional duty of the President to deliver the SONA on the fourth Monday of July,” Roque said.
“The message was sent to everyone that the President intended to discharge this function and that the internal affairs of the House should not come into the way, that the—of primordial importance was really the President being allowed to deliver his SONA,” he added.
The former president became the country’s first woman House Speaker after being elected by the majority of lawmakers in a sudden leadership change. Alvarez however still took the place beside the President during his speech even after Arroyo’s oath-taking as Speaker.