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Silence not a good look for Speaker Romualdez

House of Representatives Speaker, Martin Romualdez. PHOTO BY J. GERARD SEGUIA

HOUSE Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez should man up and manage the fallout from the demotion of Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the resignation of Vice President Sara Duterte from the political party he heads. As of this writing, the speaker has not uttered a word, leading many to speculate about cracks in the administration’s “unity” team. Some political pundits have even said the developments may be the first salvo in the race for president that is still five years away. If not addressed, these unwanted political narratives could spiral out of control and detract from the attention needed on key national priorities.

Trouble started days ago when Mrs. Arroyo was replaced as senior deputy speaker by a fellow Pampanga congressman, supposedly to spare her from the burdens of that office. She was then voted into a lower post, without the “senior” title.

Soon after that, the vice president resigned from Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats or Lakas-CMD party, whose leader is Speaker Romualdez. That gave a different color to the demotion of Mrs. Arroyo, an ally and mentor to the vice president. Mrs. Arroyo brokered the formation of the Marcos-Duterte ticket in the last elections. And the President even calls her a “secret weapon” in his overseas trips to promote the Philippines to global leaders and foreign investors.

That shabby treatment of Mrs. Arroyo became apparent when she released a statement saying she may have been suspected of plotting to oust Mr. Romualdez as speaker. In a statement on Thursday, Mrs. Arroyo said, “When I learned that there were reports that I was suspected of plotting a ‘coup’ against Speaker Romualdez, I decided I must speak out to clarify my political position. Indeed, some of my actions may have been misconstrued, such as my recent trip with a delegation of congressmen to Korea for some official meetings.”

Vice President Duterte reinforced this paper’s observation in her statement issued the following day. “I am here today because of the trust of the Filipino people in me to lead and serve them and the country, and this cannot be poisoned by political toxicity or undermined by execrable political power play.”

Bad either way

If talk of the House coup was false or misconstrued, Speaker Romualdez then hastily acted. It is no secret that he harbors an ambition to be president, like his first cousin. But his actions reveal a ruthlessness and paranoia that may not sit well with voters. At the very least, politically mowing down a 76-year-old woman leader who has been helpful to President Marcos does not endear the speaker to people.

If the House coup was true, however, then the way it was handled was clumsy. It exposes the speaker’s lack of maturity and courage to handle delicate matters. A statesman could have confronted Mrs. Arroyo in private and asked her to resign voluntarily as senior deputy speaker. That could have been her graceful exit.

Meanwhile, President Marcos has been the one fielding questions about the shake-up at the House. He now has the added task of defending his cousin, even while the President was addressing critical issues in the energy sector with the media.

Fortunately, both Vice President Duterte and Deputy Speaker Arroyo are trying to insulate President Marcos from the problem. In her statement, the vice president said, “Nothing is more important to me than being able to meaningfully serve our fellow Filipinos and the Philippines, with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. leading the way. Trust that my word, my commitment will be immutable.”

For now, though, there is no word about the vice president’s political bloc, Hugpong ng Pagbabago, which coalesced with Lakas-CMD during the last elections. As the sitting vice president, she, too, is considered a likely Malacañang contender in 2028. But to be clear, neither she nor the speaker has made any statement about their plans for the next national elections.

For now, Speaker Romualdez should not remain silent about the brewing political storm threatening to detract attention from pressing issues. Leaders must lead, not retreat into the shadows when the going gets tough.

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