MANILA (UPDATED) - Following the Liberal Party’s (LP) stinging loss in the presidential race to PDP-Laban standard-bearer Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, its own members joined the camp of the country’s incoming 16th Chief Executive for the 17th Congress.
16th Congress House Speaker Sonny Belmonte confirmed his own allies asked for his blessings to join the new majority after he announced his own plans to run for speaker in the next Congress against Duterte’s candidate, incoming Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez.
Belmonte assembled his party mates and allies Wednesday night last week.
"During the meeting you saw in Edsa Shangri-la, I said l would run for Speaker. The following morning, about 20 members came to my headquarters and in reaction said they didn't want to be in the minority. And that most shared this view. We contacted Alvarez and we two talked at my house and I told him many LPs wanted to be part of the majority," he said.
"I cited his proposed covenant with the NPC [Nationalist People's Coalition] as something we can do, and he agreed. Later that night, I met with about 40 members and reported to them. I designated (Rodolfo) Fariñas (Miro) Quimbo and (Dax) Cua to advance it farther, as l myself prefer to be in the minority. I don't know how many LP congressmen will actually join the majority or the minority. I assume most prefer the majority.”
Cua was spotted at the meeting of the party-list coalition and Lakas-CMD congressmen at the Midas hotel earlier that day.
Under House rules, the runner-up in the speakership election automatically becomes the minority leader of the Lower House.
Iloilo Rep. Jerry Treñas and Catanduanes Rep. Cesar Sarmiento both confirmed that members of the outgoing ruling party have joined the Duterte bandwagon though they will remain LP members.
Treñas said they would be part of the majority coalition along with some independent congressmen. "In the same way that others with different parties join their parties…Ang Liberals, sasama sa majority, hindi ko pa alam ilan," Trenas said.
Rep. Winston Castelo (Liberal Party, 2nd District of Quezon City) praised Belmonte Jr. for allowing Liberal Party members to join the emerging majority in the House of Representatives.
"What Speaker Belmonte did relieves many LP members of the political burden to oppose the incoming administration," Castelo, chair of the House committee on Metro Manila development, said in a statement.
"This is particularly true for LP members in Mindanao," Castelo said.
“What Speaker Belmonte did is statesmanship,” Castelo said, adding that his move frees them of making what he described as “painful choices.”
Castelo praised Belmonte for “sacrificing himself,” saying “he was ready to position his colleagues for pragmatic considerations that would benefit them and their respective congressional districts.”
“His decision would allow his colleagues to get committee chairmanships that would further allow them to grow professionally and enable them to apply their expertise on nagging policy issues besetting the country,” Castelo said.
Treñas belongs to the Visayan bloc in Congress, and he confirmed that the bloc composed of congressmen from different parties are making the jump to duterte’s side. The bloc reportedly has initially 30 congressmen who signed a manifesto of support for Duterte and Alvarez.
Other prominent LP solons who signed the manifesto are: Reps. Lucy Torres Gomez (Fourth District, Leyte); Arthur Defensor Jr. (Third District, Iloilo); Rene Relampagos (First District, Bohol); Cesar V. Sarmiento (Lone District, Catanduanes); Ben Evardone (Lone District, Eastern Samar); Paolo Javier (Lone District, Antique); Gerard Gullas (First District, Cebu) and Richard Garin (First District, Iloilo).
Neophytes also expressed their support for Alvarez. Among them: Reps. Lucille Nava (Lone District, Guimaras); Henry Ong (Second District, Leyte); Raul Boboy Tupas (Fifth District, Iloilo); Melecio Yap (First District, Negros Occidental); Manuel Sagarbarris (Second District, Negros Occidental);Greg Gasataya (Lone District, Bacolod City); and Arnie Teves (Third District, Negros Oriental). Incumbent Rep. Sharon Garin, sister in-law of Health Secretary Jannette Garin, is the lone party-list solon to sign the manifesto.
The Alvarez-led pro-Duterte coalition in the Lower House already has the support of the Nacionalista Party, the Lakas-CMD, the party-list coalition and the Nationalist People’s Coalition, whose leaders Eduardo 'Danding' Cojuangco and Ramon Ang, joined Alvarez at the NPC socials in a Makati hotel Wednesday night.
The National Unity Party (NUP) is also expected to sign a similar agreement with Duterte’s PDP-Laban, according to NUP executive Director Regie Velasco.
“NUP has earlier expressed support to President-elect Rody Duterte and his chosen Speaker Cong. Pantaleon Alvarez. NUP and PDP-Laban leaders will meet on Tuesday, which hopefully will lead to the conclusion of a comprehensive coalition pact between NUP and PDP-Laban that will bind not only our congressmen but all our elected local government officials, from Cagayan to Tawi Tawi, in working hand in hand in forging a common legislative agenda and ensuring the success of the incoming Duterte Administration," Velasco said.
LP MANIFESTO OF SUPPORT FOR DUTERTE
Outgoing House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II on Monday confirmed that the LP is now preparing a manifesto of support for the speakership of Alvarez in the 17th Congress, even as some of its members have joined other parties in the new ruling majority.
Gonzales talked to journalists at the end of the Liberal Party meeting called by Speaker Sonny Belmonte on Monday at the Speaker's Lounge.
Gonzales hopes the move will preserve the party membership. "Si Speaker kanina ay nagsalita siya sa mga members ng Liberal Party, iyung mga 16th kasama na yung mga incoming members of the 17th. Pina-ano niya iyung importance of being an ally of the incoming President and iyung commitment niya kay Bebot Alvarez to be the next Speaker, it was more of an expression of support to the speakership of Bebot Alvarez and the legislative program of the incoming president. As LP iyun ang pakiusap niya na iyung mga members who will align with the majority would remain as members of the LP."
Gonzales added, "basically sabi niya, it's almost the same document as executed between the NPC and kila Bebot ng PDP Laban... This is not an unchartered territory to speak because there were instances in the past iyung mga members belonging to the same political party have aligned themselves either with the majority or the minority."
"In accordance with the rules of the House membership of the minority, who becomes the minority leader will be dependent on the outcome of the election for the Speaker when the 17th Congress is called to order on the 4th Monday of July," he said.
Gonzales could not yet say how many members will stay with the LP.
He said the show of support is Belmonte's initiative. "Si Speaker may commitment na iyan kay Bebot Alvarez kaninang umaga. When he texted me sabi niya sa akin he already has a commitment to support the speakership of Bebot Alvarez."
Gonzales can't say if the move of the members of the ruling party had the imprimatur of outgoing President Benigno Aquino.
He also could not say if the LP congressmen were promised committee chairmanships.
Last week, Belmonte said he will run for the speakership but he also admitted that members of his party asked him for clearance to join the new majority under the Duterte administration.
Under House rules, the runner-up in the speakership race becomes the minority leader.
Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez wants to vie for the minority leadership as well through a coalition between Lakas and UNA.
Data analyzed by ABS-CBN Investigative and Research showed nearly half (116 out of 238) or 49% of incoming district representatives are LP members. Most of them coming from NCR (15) and CALABARZON (14).
Only three out of 238 prospective district representatives are from PDP-Laban, the political party of presumptive President Rodrigo Duterte. They are Erik Martinez of the 3rd District of Valenzuela, Jun Papandayan of the 2nd District of Lanao del Sur, and Pantaleon Alvarez of the 1st District of Davao del Norte.
Alvarez is Duterte’s bet for the speakership of the 17th Congress.
The Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) will comprise 18% of district representatives in the 17th Congress with 42 members.
Nacionalista Party (NP) and National Unity Party (NUP) will each comprise 10% of the total number of district representatives, with 23 members each. The United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) got 11 seats or 5%.
There are only four elected district representatives who ran as independent candidates— Wes Gatchalian (1st District, Valenzuela), Albee Benitez (3rd District, Negros Occidental), Ramon Vicente Rocamora (Lone District, Siquijor), and Maxie Rodriguez (2nd District, Cagayan de Oro).
De La Salle University-based political analyst Richard Heydarian is not surprised. "I think we are beginning to see the reenactment of election-cycle turncoatism. It's astonishing how Duterte is pulling off bandwagoning en masse despite the fact that he doesn't have a leash like prerogative on the release of the pork barrel, comes from a minor party and peripheral region, and garnered fewer percentage of votes than his predecessors."
Heydarian, however, thinks part of the reason is Duterte himself.
"It's a testament also to the sheer charisma and political traction that Digong brings to the table. Let's also be honest: Digong is smartly utilizing the power of appointments to build bridges and consolidate partnership with the legislature," the political observer said.
Heydarian believes Duterte has effectively consolidated power.
“I foresee a powerful and determined president, especially in the first year in office. Given presumptive-president Duterte's growing (prospective) control over the legislature via trusted friends and allies, and his promise to enhance the capacity and raise salaries of the armed forces and national police, he seems increasingly secure in his position. But much will also depend on how he conducts himself and whether he operates within or without the boundaries of his constitutional mandate. He has huge political capital but not a carte blanche.”
For now, Belmonte is focusing on his remaining task as Speaker—heading the side of the House of Representatives when Congress sits as the National Board of Canvassers for President and Vice President this week.