MANILA, Philippines - It seems that the reorganization in the House of Representatives of the 15th Congress is but a formality.
Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III of the Liberal Party (LP) revealed Monday there are already at least 150 lawmakers supporting the speakership of Quezon City Rep. Feliciano "Sonny" Belmonte Jr.
About half of these, or 75 lawmakers, are card-carrying Liberal Party members, while the rest are allies from the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), Nacionalista Party (NP), party-list groups, PDP-Laban, and some 55 members of the Lakas-Kampi-CMD independent bloc.
“With regards to the House, the political culture here is whoever is the President, the House usually follows,” Tañada said.
Tañada also revealed that among the likely top officials of the lower chamber of Congress are himself, Zamboanga Rep. Maria Isabelle Climaco, Northern Samar Rep. Raul Daza, and Batangas Rep. Hermilando Mandanas who have expressed interest to be deputy speakers.
Other leaders are Neptali Gonzales II, majority leader and chairman of the rules committee, and Cavite Rep. Emilio Abaya as chairman of the appropriations committee that handles the annual General Appropriations Act (GAA).
Tañada said the likely minority leader would be Lakas-Kampi-CMD's Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman. Tañada explained Lagman will likely be nominated for Speaker, but become minority leader instead.
Tradition in the House makes the runner-up in the speakership contest the minority leader.
For his part, Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez of the Lakas-Kampi-CMD said he and Lagman will be sharing the 3-year term of minority leader of the 15th Congress.
Suarez and Lagman, being both on their last term, will be sitting 18 months each, with Lagman taking the first half.
Tañada said committee chairmanships will most likely be distributed among all allies as there are not enough Liberal Party lawmakers to hold all 57 standing and special committees.
Tradition dictates that first termers won't be given committee chairmanships and instead give way to more senior lawmakers. If this tradition is to be observed, then former president and now Pampanga 2nd district Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will not get a committee chairmanship.
Tañada said they are now studying the possibility of collapsing some committees as the new majority moves to implement the Aquino administration’s legislative agenda.
Tañada said some members will have to settle for being committee vice chairmen. The high profile position of the head of the contingent of the House to the Commission on Appointments has yet to be filled, but it will be most likely controlled by the Liberal Party to ensure the swift confirmation of Aquino Cabinet members
Suarez revealed that on their end, Lakas-Kampi-CMD only has about 30 "hardline" members left, and that includes himself, Lagman, the Arroyos, and Zambales Rep. Mitos Magsaysay.
Suarez attributed the disintegration of the former ruling party to the decision of Rep. Arroyo not to seek the speakership, noting that many congressmen committed to support only Arroyo.
“If you're talking pure LP, they don't have (the numbers). If GMA decides to run, we just need one party to get the speakership, but when she decided she won't run, nag-splinter na, kaniya-kaniya nang alliance. Indicator now is NP and NPC, that they support Belmonte. He is comfortably ahead, plus with the present set-up of government, we need only the vote of the President to be speaker,” he said.
Suarez said the Liberal Party will be swamped with more members as the 2013 mid-term election approaches.
Tañada said the legislative agenda will likely focus on jobs creation, education, agriculture, and efforts to address graft and corruption.
He also revealed the administration may likely resort to zero budgeting for the 2011 General Appropriations Act. This means each agency will have to start from scratch and defend their budget proposals instead of the current practice of merely adding into the existing budgets.
He said allies of the President are also looking at slashing congressional pork barrel allocations instead of imposing new taxes. He said Aquino is looking at putting up a menu of projects on where congressional funds can be used.
Suarez, on the other hand, said Arroyo instructed party members to support the programs of the Aquino administration. “The marching order of PGMA is not to be obstructionist but to support the administration. Walang masyadong debate, but on issues that need fiscalizing.”
Suarez said he is not against cutbacks on the pork barrel. “I don’t mind bawasan ng pork but when you talk of a budget of P1.4 trillion, what's P0.5 billion if it's just improving menu on how pork can be applied. How can you question the fact I’m giving money to different hospitals?”
On July 1, Arroyo filed House resolution 8, which calls for a Constitutional Convention to amend the 1987 Constitution. Tañada said the Liberal Party has no position on this yet. It will be the subject of a meeting after the State of the Nation Address.
However, he said, passing it will be hard since unlike any ordinary bill, it needs 191 votes, equivalent to 2/3 of the 287-person lower House.
“The difference here between an ordinary bill [is that it] needs majority lang. With regards to the resolution of Congresswoman Arroyo, it needs the vote of 2/3 [of the House]. There's already big difference, that would require 191 congressmen, more or less. 'Di ganun kadali po yung panukalang resolusyon sa Con-Con,” Tañada said.
Suarez, meantime, defended his party mate for filing the bill. Suarez noted that Arroyo merely followed the lead of the Liberal Party in the 14th Congress where the now administration party called for a Constitutional Convention.
“Last Congress, nag-file ang LP ng amending Constitution on Con-Con, and they're just copying the measure, and what Congresswoman Arroyo did is just to reiterate the position of LP on Con-Con,” he said.
Suarez said he has filed a bill postponing October’s barangay elections for a year, which is when elections for Con-Con delegates can be done simultaneously.
“You mean to say, what they’ve done in the 14th Congress is they changed their line of thought just because they're now in power? Pinakamagaling diyan is we amend, set aside political colors,” he said.