Lines drawn in battle for House speaker’s post
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - May 19, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – The battle lines for the speakership in the House of Representatives are now being drawn ahead of the opening of the 17th Congress on July 25 under the incoming Duterte administration.

On one side is incumbent Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., who is counting on the support of some 120 lawmakers from the Liberal Party (LP) and other House allies.

His challenger is Davao del Norte representative-elect Pantaleon Alvarez, secretary general of PDP-Laban and the preferred House chief of incoming president Rodrigo Duterte.

Alvarez’s supporters in the House staged a show of force yesterday at the Midas Hotel and Casino in Pasay City, and invited other lawmakers in the incoming Congress to be for “change.”

Fifty-nine reelected and returning House members from various political parties and party-list groups joined Alvarez for a luncheon meeting at the hotel to drum up support.

“On behalf of the Duterte administration, we would like to sincerely thank you for your support and we have a lot of things to do to execute the changes that the Duterte administration has promised to the Filipino people,” Alvarez told his supporters.

“We hope that in the days to come, we shall be united in pursuing the legislation needed to effect the necessary changes,” he said.

The election for speaker will be held in the morning of July 25, when the 17th Congress opens its first regular session. In the afternoon, Duterte is expected to deliver his first State of the Nation Address.

He said members of the “coalition for change” number at least 80 congressmen coming from PDP-Laban, Nacionalista Party (NP), the National Unity Party (NUP), the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), Lakas-CMD and even from the LP.

He said House members from other parties supporting his speakership bid need not renounce their political affiliation and join PDP-Laban.

However, if the LP ends up as the minority, its members who have voted for him will have to swear their loyalty to PDP-Laban, he said.

“Hopefully, somebody will mediate for possible coalition (between LP and PDP-Laban),” Alvarez told reporters.

Alvarez and Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, chairman of the Lakas-CMD, signed yesterday a document formalizing their parties’ alliance.

Alvarez said he is confident he can obtain over 150 votes. The incoming House is expected to have nearly 300 members. “If all the big parties coalesce, I’ll get way more than minimum votes needed,” he said.

Alvarez vowed to reduce the LP or the incoming minority bloc to a “bite size” of 20 members.

He said among the priorities of the chamber, if he is elected, is the reimposition of the death penalty and amending the Constitution for a shift to a federal system of government.

Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe said many party-list congressmen are expected to join Alvarez, who promised them “equitable distribution” of committee chairmanships.

Alvarez held the same congressional post from 1998 to 2001 and served as transportation and communications secretary under the Arroyo administration.

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