It's Alvarez vs Belmonte for Speakership battle

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Pantaleon Alvarez and Sonny Belmonte. Composite Photo.

MANILA - It's going to be Pantaleon Alvarez versus Sonny Belmonte for the Speakership of the 17th Congress.

Vowing to support the incoming presidency of frontrunner Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, 16th Congress House Speaker Sonny Belmonte launched his and the Liberal Party's (LP) bid to retain the Speakership on his final term as congressman in the 17th Congress.

Belmonte assembled about 92 of his own supporters at the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel Wednesday evening behind closed doors and away from media coverage. ABS-CBN News, however, was allowed to take one picture and one 15-second cellphone video from the event.

During the gathering, Belmonte told congressmen: "Yes, I am running for Speaker. I will go for it."

"This is my challenge to myself... We should be together... We should support this administration... We should do it for the nation," he added.

House Speaker Sonny Belmonte speaks before his supporters at the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel Wednesday. ABS-CBN News

UPHILL STRUGGLE FOR LP

In a text message to ABS-CBN News, political analyst Prospero de Vera said it will be an uphill struggle for the LP to keep the House.

"At the rate things are developing, Belmonte and the LP have no chance of retaining hold of the House. NP (Nacionalista Party), NUP (National Unity Party), Lakas, and major party-list groups have already signed a covenant with PDP-Laban, and NPC (Nationalist People's Coalition) will soon follow. The numbers are in the favor of Bebot Alvarez, and knowing the history of the House, the members will join the new leadership," De Vera said.

This, despite the presence of Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo, the LP vice-presidential candidate who is poised to win.

"They, of course, would want to regain power. But at this point, it is very difficult to cross with a very popular president and even Leni knows that," said De Vera.

Another UP political science professor, Ranjit Rye, added: "The LP will remain a viable party of the opposition. But for them to be politically relevant in this new government, they must consider robust engagement and critical collaborate with the new coalition in power as a serious option going forward."

Duterte has backed the Speakership bid of his own PDP-Laban party-mate, incoming Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez.

Alvarez signed a covenant of unity with Lakas-CMD Wednesday at the Midas Hotel and secured the support of party-list and district congressmen. He also met with the NPC in the evening. He also already signed a coalition agreement with the NP. He is expected to also meet with the NUP.

READ: Duterte's speakership bet claims House majority

THEN AND NOW

Belmonte now finds himself right where Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman of the then-Lakas-CMD was when he challenged Belmonte for the Speakership in 2010 -- the start of the Aquino administration.

Lagman was the bet of the party of then-outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, just like how Belmonte is now the leader of outgoing President Benigno Aquino III's LP in the Lower House.

At that time, the Lakas won the May 2010 elections with over 100 congressmen, a number which got decimated over time as congressmen defected to the new administration as they usually do.

Lagman ended up as minority leader, a post Belmonte himself had from 1998 to 2000 under the Estrada administration when he and then Vice President Arroyo were both with Lakas.

Estrada's own running mate in the 1998 elections, Senator Edgardo Angara, lost the vice-presidency to Arroyo while Arroyo's presidential standard bearer, Jose de Venecia, lost to Estrada.

In 2016, the LP's standard-bearer, Mar Roxas, lost to Duterte.

FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE

The Speakership and the Lower House is any president's first line of defense against any impeachment attempt since the House is the only institution that may initiate such proceedings with a one-third vote of its members. Trial is done by the Senate and a conviction needs two-thirds vote of the Senate. The vice president succeeds the president in case of a conviction.

In this year's polls, ABS-CBN Investigative and Research found that the LP is expected to dominate the 17th Congress with six members in the Senate and 116 members (out of 238 district representative seats) at the House of Representatives.

Belmonte and incumbent Senate President Franklin Drilon are both members of the LP. The PDP-Laban, the political party of Duterte, has forged an alliance with the NP.

The LP, meanwhile, will comprise a fourth of the Senate with a total of six senators, based on partial and unofficial results as of May 17, 2016 (representing 95.94% of election returns from the poll body's transparency server).

Aside from Bam Aquino who was elected in 2013, other LP members expected to form part of the 17th Congress are Drilon, Joel Villanueva, Francis Pangilinan, Ralph Recto, and Leila de Lima.

The next largest chunk (five) of incumbent and prospective senators, meanwhile, ran as independent candidates. They include incumbent Senators Grace Poe and Francis Escudero, as well as prospective senators Miguel Zubiri, Richard Gordon, and Panfilo Lacson.

Lacson ran as a shared candidate of LP and the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) while Zubiri and Gordon ran as part of the senatorial slate of UNA and the Poe-Escudero tandem.

Koko Pimentel is the only senator affiliated with PDP-Laban, Duterte's party. The NP has three members: Cynthia Villar, Antonio Trillanes IV and Alan Peter Cayetano. Trillanes and Cayetano ran as independent candidates in 2016 but remain NP members, according to NP lawyer Armi Corpuz. LDP and Akbayan will have one senator each.

Nearly half (116 out of 238) or 49% of incoming district representatives are LP members. Most of them coming from the National Capital Region (15) and CALABARZON (14). Only three out of 238 prospective district representatives are from PDP-Laban, namely Erik Martinez of the 3rd District of Valenzuela, Jun Papandayan of the 2nd District of Lanao del Sur, and Alvarez of the 1st District of Davao del Norte.

At the Lower House, Belmonte has expressed support for Duterte. In an interview last Monday, he said: "We have to recognize that the victory of Mayor Duterte by such a big margin, considering that he surfaced only a few months before the actual election as a candidate, the big margin he had contained a message, obviously it contained a message this is not business as usual."

Asked categorically if he is open to switching to Duterte's party and bring allies with him, Belmonte said it is not out of the realm of possibility.

"Certainly, lahat ng mga possibilities na yun are open to consideration," he said, noting that Duterte voted for him as House Speaker when he was still a congressman at the beginning of the term of Arroyo.

READ: Will Belmonte switch to Duterte's camp?

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