Muzzling BBM’s ‘secret weapon’

Six months after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. described former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as his “secret weapon” for being the veteran in international affairs, his allies at the House unceremoniously demoted her purportedly for planning to topple the speaker, Ferdinand Martin Romualdez.

Arroyo has joined seven of Marcos’ 13 foreign trips so far. Romualdez, the first cousin of the president, once said that Arroyo was “definitely an asset” to Marcos’ delegation in his foreign travels.

In her home base, which is the House of Representatives, Arroyo is seemingly considered a threat to Romualdez’s leadership.

The official reason given for her demotion — from senior deputy speaker to being one of the eight deputy speakers — was to “unburden [her] of the heavy load from the position.”

Browsing the official website of the House and its Rules, there is no provision for a senior deputy speaker. What it provides under Section 17 are the duties and powers of the deputy speakers, including the assumption of the duties and powers of the speaker in case of absence or temporary incapacity, presiding over the session when the speaker does not preside.

I covered the House for 15 years from 1992 to 2007 and during those times, the term senior was appended to a position as a courtesy and recognition of a person’s length of service or related experience. Nowadays, seniority no longer counts. The president’s son, Rep. Sandro Marcos, was elected senior deputy majority leader even though he is a neophyte lawmaker and much younger than many of the deputy majority leaders and members of the rules committee.

So, was Arroyo really demoted? What “heavy load” did she have as a senior deputy speaker that needed to be “unburdened”?

It was a smart move from the camp of Romualdez to pick Rep. Aurelio Gonzales Jr. as replacement to Arroyo as senior deputy speaker. He also comes from Pampanga. But doesn’t Arroyo feel betrayed? Gonzales has been known as a close ally of Arroyo. They were together in pushing a resolution expressing “unequivocal defense” of former president Rodrigo Duterte, who is facing an investigation at the International Criminal Court over his controversial and bloody war on drugs.

Rumors have it that Arroyo, who orchestrated the ouster in 2018 of then-speaker Pantaleon Alvarez that paved the way for her election as the new House leader, met with trusted allies in Singapore and South Korea before sessions resumed earlier this month.

After the meetings, one of the congressmen supposedly told another about the possibility of Arroyo’s return as speaker. This reached Romualdez who acted swiftly to expose Arroyo’s purported takeover attempt and weaken her hold in the chamber.

The congressman suspected of spilling the beans on the alleged coup is also a known Arroyo ally who made big money in public works projects when she was president. Another case of betrayal?

Arroyo has denied plotting to oust Romualdez, saying that her actions “may have been misconstrued,” such as her recent trip to South Korea with some congressmen.

Two days after Arroyo was stripped of the word “senior” attached to her title as deputy speaker, photos of her with Vice President Sara Duterte and business magnate Manny Pangilinan circulated on social media. Pangilinan reportedly hosted lunch on Friday to celebrate the birthdays of Duterte, Arroyo and two other personalities.

Earlier that day, Duterte resigned irrevocably from her post as chairman of the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD). Duterte joined the party in November 2021 before she filed her certificate of candidacy for vice president.

Duterte did not clearly say why she was leaving Lakas-CMD, but hinted at a “power play” in which she didn’t want to be embroiled. “I am here today because of the trust of the Filipino people… This cannot be poisoned by political toxicity or undermined by execrable political power play,” she said.

Arroyo is chairman emeritus of Lakas while Romualdez is its president.

Marcos has dismissed Arroyo’s “demotion” as “just part of reorganization” and that people should “be careful to not read too much into it.”

Will Arroyo still be invited to join the president’s foreign travels? Has her charm diminished as Marcos’ “secret weapon” in his meetings with foreign leaders and attendance at global conferences?

Are we seeing early signs of a Duterte-Arroyo tandem against Romualdez in 2028? Are they consolidating their forces now in time for the 2025 midterm elections?


The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.
This column also appeared in The Manila Times.