SPEAKER Ferdinand Martin Romualdez’s sacking of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as senior deputy speaker has revealed what could be the likely political landscape in the coming years, to be resolved in 2028: Romualdez versus Sara Duterte in the contest to become the next Philippine president, or the first prime minister of the land.
The only logical explanation for Romualdez’s paranoia — enough to throw under the bus his political mentor Arroyo, most probably without getting the permission of his cousin President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. — is the lesson from the fate of former speaker Pantaleon Alvarez during President Duterte’s term.
Who? That’s exactly the lesson. Alvarez, one of the closest confidantes of then-President Duterte, almost totally vanished from the political firmament, when 180 of the then 292 representatives voted to remove him as speaker of the House in July 2018. Alvarez didn’t know what hit him.
The claim that only one vote is necessary to be speaker — that of the President — is hogwash, perhaps true only in a remote way if a candidate is perceived to be able to give the congressmen enough funds because of the President’s support for him. Duterte isn’t known to betray a longtime friend, but he had to respect the wishes of the independent House of Representatives. Alvarez was removed, as far as I know, not because Duterte ordered it but because 180 out of 292 congressmen were dissatisfied with his leadership and the very unequal distribution of funds under the control of Alvarez. He was also viewed as giving so much power to his friend, Ilocos congressman Rodolfo Fariñas, whom many in the House disliked, Leaders
Who were the leaders of the 180 representatives that removed Alvarez? Arroyo who replaced him as speaker, Sara, and then representative and current senator Imee Marcos. Now the three are not known to like Romualdez.
Clearly, Romualdez was losing a lot of sleep imagining that the same powerful women who booted out Alvarez would soon move to oust him. Thus, Romualdez’s tactless statement to explain his move to kick out Arroyo from her post: “Moves to destabilize the House should be nipped in the bud.” In fact, Romualdez was one of the House members who removed Alvarez. He knows how the three ladies could move — in a week’s time, I heard — to oust Alvarez, without having to get Duterte’s permission. I know for a fact that ousting Romualdez is far, far from Arroyo’s mind.
Romualdez’s paranoia is understandable because of his ambition to succeed his cousin for the government’s very top post.
The speakership is the only platform for him to bid for the presidency. He has zero charisma: Sara has lots of it, at least the potential for such. He doesn’t have the flair for inspiring speeches, and having lived a life of luxury — during and after Marcos’ time — Martin doesn’t have the common touch that Sara has. It would be a repeat of the 1998 elections: Vice President Joseph Estrada with the “masa” touch beating with a landslide the politician Speaker Jose de Venecia.
Worse, many Filipinos still see Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. as a Philippine president who should be admired rather than demonized, a reality that helped his son win the presidency. But that isn’t how they see the Romualdez family.
Martin’s aunt Imelda Romualdez is still much disliked by Filipinos. Ilocanos think that it was Imelda and her alleged corruption who ruined Marcos’ image. Indeed most of Marcos’ technocrats — especially finance minister Cesar Virata, trade and industry minister Roberto Ongpin, and economic planning secretary Gerardo Sicat — had been at odds with Imelda. Almost all of the so-called Marcos cronies were not Ferdinand’s but Imelda’s. The odds are not too good for Romualdez to become president. Filipinos don’t want the same clan to be leading the country through 12 years.
Romualdez, however, is said to be intelligent enough that he knows he has no chance versus Sara in a contest for the presidency. His game plan is to convene Congress as the assembly for revising the Constitution to transform the government into a parliamentary one — in which he would be the prime minister, with his cousin — or maybe even Sara — as the powerless, ceremonial president. Thus nipping in the bud any move to remove him has been his obsession.
In the parliamentary system, looks and charisma won’t matter to elect the top post in government, the prime minister, only the support of the oligarchs and the biggest parties (which are in many cases financed by oligarchs) with whom the Romualdez family has developed strong ties, including those of the Yellow persuasion, unlike Sara who can rely mainly on big businessmen based in Davao.
What could be worrying Martin is that rumors have been circulating among the country’s elite alleging massive corruption in certain departments, with certain congressmen demanding bigger bribes from businessmen needing government support or approvals for their projects.
Sara of course knows about Martin’s ambition to succeed his cousin either as president or vice president — which of course would impede her own. Thus she resigned from the ruling party Lakas-CMD as member and chairman, where Romualdez is president, as the message of her displeasure over his move to oust Arroyo to further his ambition.
Sara issued a very serious, albeit cryptic, statement on Instagram though that stunned those who speak Visayan: “Sa imong ambisyon (in your ambition), do not be tambaloslos.” For the political class, there was little doubt that she was addressing Romualdez, with the ambition to be president or prime minister.
Tambaloslos is a small mythical monster in Bicol, Visayan and Mindanao folklore, with a wide mouth (other reports say with a long penis) who lures with his magical words girls into the jungle whom he rapes repeatedly. The creature is also said to have the power to confuse people and make them lose their way or go around in circles.
It is a very serious insult, according to my Visayan-speaking friends, especially since the tambaloslos is not just one of the fearful monsters, but a rapist, one of the most hated criminals in Philippine society. One said it is used to mean somebody who is good at fooling people with his deft use of language. “I myself don’t even know the term originally referred to a mythological creature,” a Bisaya said. “We use it to refer to somebody we really despise”‘
It’s a declaration of war by Sara against Martin, another Visayan friend said. Sara’s post became viral on social media, a stunning display of the kind of witty ferocity she would hurl against Romualdez in a contest for the presidency. Martin should scramble his media team to prevent a contraction of the term — “tamba” or worse “loslos” — from being popularized to refer to him.
While Martin doesn’t speak Visayan, his wife, party-list representative Yedda Marie, who is from Cebu, would know its meaning and would have told him how serious the insult is.
Too early to plan for 2028? Certainly not. It’s been a curse of our country, and many representative democracies as well that leading political figures, especially incumbents usually plan for the next elections, even if years away.
That need is one factor resulting in corruption, as funds — at least P5 billion now, analysts say — have to be accumulated to finance a presidential campaign and nurture supporters. Indeed, incumbent congressmen, governors and mayors lose a lot of time and raising funds, mostly from graft, that they lose their focus on governance preparing to run for the next elections.
However, expect Sara and Martin — as all politicians do — to deny that they are the rivals in the presidential elections for 2028, nor even that they are looking towards 2028. Their strategists and operators however would be busy finding some mud to throw at the rival.
Whoever would get the upper hand would depend on whether this Marcos-Romualdez government would succeed or not. There are obvious strong economic headwinds, both global and local. There is no clear plan for boosting the economy, other than the usual “attract-investors-with-a-stable-macroeconomy” thinking, to achieve the double-digit growth rates necessary to get to the levels of now developed Asian countries such as Malaysia and South Korea.
The very serious threat against this government’s success will be the result of Marcos’ joining the US alliance against China, by allowing the US military to use nine camps and facilities, several of which are aimed at areas occupied by China in the Spratlys and at Taiwan in case of a China-US war over that island country.
As a rising superpower, China — our biggest trading partner — cannot but retaliate against a defiant little country, which has to be “killed to frighten the monkey” as a Chinese proverb goes. China will either retaliate through economic sanctions such as drastically decreasing its imports from and exports to us as well as Chinese investments and official aid. China will also likely undertake a major geopolitical move against us, like turning Scarborough Shoal into another of its island-fortresses or towing away our pathetic “sovereign marker” in Ayungin Shoal, a decrepit vessel grounded there, and totally banning any Philippine vessel from the area.
In both scenarios, the economy will be in trouble, and Marcos’ will be blamed for provoking China. His prestige will plummet, and it makes it difficult for Martin to be even just reelected as Leyte congressman in 2025.
Romualdez’s move to demote Arroyo appears to be backfiring, as many in Congress saw it as a petty, unnecessary — even irresolute — move on Romualdez’s part. “Dumb, blind ambition,” said one, who’s even related to him.
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