MANILA - With Vice President Leni Robredo now in the Duterte Cabinet and its senators now in the Senate majority, the Liberal Party (LP) in the Lower House is set to sign a coalition agreement with allies of the administration to join the majority by next week.
"Of course. In fact, we intend to sign the coalition next week," incoming House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said Wednesday.
Alvarez now expects the minority in the Lower House to be less than 100, a number that he is comfortable with.
Alvarez today swore in congressmen as new members of the administration party at the Makati Diamond Residences. Among them Representatives Sol Aragones, Anne Hoffer, Bai Sandra Sema, Lorna Bautista and Maria Collantes.
He expects to swear in six more congressmen next week. This brings the PDP-Laban's congressional total to about 100.
Alvarez said they have yet to farm out the committee chairmanships among the parties but he sees no problem with giving some chairmanships to the LP.
"Wala pa, maguusap pa lang kami doon sa distribution. We all know kokonti lang naman chairmanships ng committees compared sa number of congressmen," he said.
His predecessor, 16th Congress House Speaker Sonny Belmonte, met with President Rodrigo Duterte at the Palace today.
"Courtesy call lang yun," Belmonte told ABS-CBN News by text message.
NO PORK BARREL
Alvarez, meanwhile, reiterated that there is no pork barrel in the 2017 budget. He clarified that what exists is an P80-million limit to the projects congressmen can itemize and propose.
"Ang pork barrel, yun yung lump sum appropriations kung saan merong discretion yung congressman kung saan niya gagamitin yung pondong yun. So ngayon, walang problema sa distrito mo, isulat mo iyan isa-isa, ilagay natin iyan sa GAA," he explained.
"Hindi pwedeng walang limit sa dami ng congressman. Unfair naman doon sa iba kung konti lang yung makuha, iba malaki. Kailangan lalagyan natin ng cap yun para evenly distributed sa lahat ng distrito because we only have so much money na pwede nating i-budget. Di naman pwedeng sky is the limit per congressman," he added.
READ: Alvarez dares accusers: Prove pork barrel is back
Alvarez defended this, saying congressmen still have a job to propose projects in the interest of their constituents.
Earlier, Kabayan Party-list Rep. Harry Roque said he is on the fence about the alleged pork barrel that remains in the budget.
Roque was counsel for the group of Leonor Briones and Panfilo Lacson, who are both critics of the pork barrel system and who both asked the Supreme Court to invalidate the alleged pork in the 2015 budget.
"[Briones] confirmed that the P80 million that the congressmen will be entitled to in terms of line item projects and soft projects, in her mind, continue to be pork barrel, and we will make the necessary manifestation before the SC," he said.
He said he is ready to let go of the entitlement if ever. "I myself have to be transparent. If court says its pork barrel, I have to surrender P80 million back to GAA," he said.
Roque, however, is open to the possibility that the so-called pork that remains may not really be pork.