Philippine Congress standoff ends as current speaker quits

Philippine Congress standoff ends as current speaker quits
Newly elected speaker Rep. Lord Allan Velasco at the start of the special session of the House of Representatives on Tuesday to ensure the national budget’s approval. (AP)
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Updated 13 October 2020

Philippine Congress standoff ends as current speaker quits

Philippine Congress standoff ends as current speaker quits
  • Alan Peter Cayetano: Giving way to avoid damage to the 300-strong legislative chamber as a democratic institution

MANILA: The leader of the Philippines’ House of Representatives announced his resignation Tuesday, ending a standoff with a rival speaker that has stalled the passage of next year’s budget, including funds for fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano made the announcement in a Facebook video message from his neighborhood while legislators were ratifying the election of his rival Rep. Lord Allan Velasco as speaker. Both are allies of President Rodrigo Duterte, who had brokered a power-sharing deal that went awry this week and set off the standoff.
Cayetano and his allied legislators mocked Velasco’s election Monday as speaker by his supporters in a sports club outside Congress. He said he was giving way to avoid damage to the 300-strong legislative chamber as a democratic institution.
“If we bastardize Congress, we’re also bastardizing our country,” Cayetano said in his video message.
Despite the easing of the impasse, Duterte called Cayetano and Velasco to a meeting at the presidential palace Tuesday, mainly to ensure the rapid passage of the proposed $90 billion budget, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.
The military chief of staff, Gen. Gilbert Gapay, said the military has kept an eye on the House impasse. “We were just getting prepared in case it gets out of hand because sometimes during situations like this, many may take advantage,” Gapay said at a news conference.
Duterte brokered a power-sharing deal last year in which Cayetano would assume the speakership for 15 months until this month, to be followed by Velasco, who would serve as speaker for the remaining 21 months.
Cayetano recently offered to step down, but his camp said a majority of lawmakers voted to reject his resignation. After Cayetano steered the initial approval of the budget, his camp abruptly suspended congressional sessions, pre-empting Velasco’s assumption of the speakership under the power-sharing deal.
Several lawmakers protested that the suspension blocked them from scrutinizing the budget, including crucial appropriations for the Department of Health, which is spearheading efforts to contain coronavirus outbreaks.
With top police and military generals standing beside him, Duterte went on TV last week to warn that he would intercede if the House leadership crisis threatens the passage of the budget. He later called for a special session of the House starting Tuesday to ensure the budget’s approval.
Velasco’s allied legislators gathered Monday in a sports club to declare the House speakership vacant, then elected Velasco as his replacement.
Cayetano and his camp blasted the move as illegal and a travesty, initially insisting that he still had the support of majority of legislators. But he changed his mind and announced his resignation Tuesday, accusing his rivals of damaging doors and forcing their way to take over the House of Representatives.


Pygmies, soldier killed in clashes over DR Congo park

Updated 34 min 7 sec ago

Pygmies, soldier killed in clashes over DR Congo park

Pygmies, soldier killed in clashes over DR Congo park
  • In 2018, Pygmies began to move onto land inside the perimeter of Kahuzi-Biega National Park and started to cut down trees, mainly to make charcoal
  • According to park authorities, Pygmies have destroyed vast acres of woodland — an act of deforestation that gnaws away at the habitat of endangered gorillas

BUKAVU, DR Congo: Three Pygmies and a soldier were killed in clashes near DR Congo’s Kahuzi-Biega National Park, military sources and local officials said Wednesday, as calls grow for protection of the country’s indigenous peoples.
The national park, which celebrated its 50th anniversary on Monday, is a haven for critically endangered gorillas but faces an emerging threat from a conflict between rangers and local Pygmies, who claim they were robbed of ancestral lands when the park was extended in the 1970s.
The central African country’s parliament is currently considering a law to guarantee the rights of Pygmies.
Clashes erupted on Monday in the nearby village of Kabamba in South Kivu province, military sources and the territory’s administrator Thadee Miderho said Wednesday.
In addition to the four killed, others were wounded, they said.
The Pygmies wanted to retrieve bags of charcoal seized by the military, according to Miderho.
In 2018, Pygmies began to move onto land inside the park’s perimeter and started to cut down trees, mainly to make charcoal.
According to park authorities, Pygmies have destroyed vast acres of woodland — an act of deforestation that gnaws away at the gorillas’ habitat.
Their return led to open conflict between Pygmies and rangers in which people on both sides have been killed.
Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park celebrated 50 years of existence on Monday, priding itself as “a sanctuary and refuge” of eastern lowland gorillas.
Meanwhile a civil society group in the territory of Kabare wrote an open letter to UNESCO asking for it to help “save” the Pygmies.
“Fifty years later, the existence of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park = 50 years of suffering of our Pygmies brothers and sisters,” the group wrote.
In the capital Kinshasa, the National Assembly passed a bill on November 26 for the “protection and promotion of the rights of the indigenous Pygmy peoples,” which will now be considered by the Senate.
“In the Democratic Republic of Congo, unlike other indigenous ethnic groups, the Pygmies have not always received special attention as an indigenous group,” parliament acknowledged in a memorandum.
The proposed law guarantees the recognition of the culture of the Pygmies, easy access to justice and social services, and “full access to the land.”