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Fallen One

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[Photo of Jose de Venecia]Ousted House speaker Jose de Venecia Jr wowed guests at the Anvil Exchange Forum with a colorful firsthand account of his dealings with the President—and his attempt to lead her back to the straight and narrow.

Whether or not he cried buckets over his ouster top man in Congress is something only former Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr knows.

But for a man unceremoniously kicked out of office, he didn’t show signs of dejection. De Venecia actually appeared none the worse for wear and was even in his element when he spoke before members of the Anvil Business Club in February. Though he tackled diverse issues, the crowd was more interested in his falling out with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo than in anything else.

During the forum, there were instances when the erstwhile leader of the 240-strong House of Representatives could’ve given stand-up comedians a run for their money. He said the President claimed too much credit for the Expanded Value Added Tax Law. The much maligned EVAT, he told club members, were the subjects of much debate. “My effigy was burned five times,” he roared. “Her effigy was burned [only] three times.” This brought the house down.

But for the most part he just droned on about the dollar remittance and the build-operate-transfer programs, why members of the country’s shrinking middle class are all migrating overseas, and how he floated the idea of planting a billion trees.

It was he, the former Speaker said, who advised President Arroyo to go to China instead of the United States shortly after she assumed power. He claimed to have helped build a smoother and stronger relation between leaders in Beijing and Manila. But there is one Chinese company, de Venecia said, that is trying to destroy these political and economic gains through corruption. Of course, he did not directly identify the firm in question.

The former Speaker said he tried to stop his son Jose “Joey” de Venecia III “from saying things that would hurt the President, the First Gentleman, and the First Family.” (The young de Venecia linked Presidential husband Jose Miguel Arroyo to the controversial National Broadband Network-ZTE deal.) But the older de Venecia claimed to have had a change of heart when he realized the people will shoulder the payment of the overpriced NBN-ZTE project. “I was ashamed I had to back off” he said to the loud laughter of the audience. (That comment alluded to the warning allegedly given by the First Gentleman to Joey.)

Someone from the audience asked him if it is true that the President’s husband is the godfather of smuggling. “You said it; I didn’t say it,” he replied with a wide grin. The room broke into wild guffaw. “Based on the laughter of the crowd, you already know the answer.”

“Is it harder to implement changes now that you are no longer the Speaker?” another asked. “As Speaker of the House you have power. As an ordinary congressman you have none. But at least now I can talk freely. Before, I had to consider the relations between Congress and Malacañan, and the relationship between us and the political party.”

Perhaps the most important question that night came from a woman who wanted to know why Rep. de Venecia didn’t raise a howl at the alleged widespread corruption in the Arroyo government while he was still the Speaker. “To tell you the truth,” he explained, “I was trying to give her a chance to implement reforms.”

He later added: “All of us... are sinners, and in my case I made more than the others because I have to deal with [hundreds of] congressmen everyday and...half a million constituents...all of whom have problems, so...we will be forced to do things we don’t want to do because we have to help tens of thousands of people.”

print ed: 04/08


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