SB vows good fight over speaker’s post
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - May 20, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. has vowed to give incoming Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez a good fight for the speakership of the House of Representatives in the 17th Congress.

Belmonte is gunning for a third term as leader of the House while Alvarez, a returning congressman and secretary general of PDP-Laban, is reportedly the anointed one of his partymate, incoming president Rodrigo Duterte.

“Yes, I am running for speaker. I will go for it. This is my challenge to myself,” Belmonte told over 90 incumbent and incoming lawmakers during a dinner meeting at a hotel in Mandaluyong City on Wednesday night.

“We should support this administration. We should do this for the nation,” he said.

Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo, who is leading the latest tally of votes for vice president, was also present during the meeting.

The gathering came hours after Alvarez and some 60 lawmakers staged a show of force at the Midas Hotel and Casino in Pasay City.

Belmonte counts on the support of some 120 House members from the Liberal Party, of which he is the vice chairman, as well as other lawmakers from allied political parties.

“He has a strong base but the preference of the president is also a crucial factor in the battle for the speakership,” said a lawmaker supporting Belmonte.

The election for speaker will be held on the morning of July 25, the opening of the first regular session of the 17th Congress.

In the afternoon, Duterte will deliver his first State of the Nation Address in Congress, which by then will have its set of leaders.

Whoever loses in the race will become the chamber’s minority leader, whose members will be those who voted for him.

Alvarez had expressed confidence that he would win the race with the support of lawmakers from the Nacionalista Party, Nationalist People’s Coalition, the National Unity Party, Lakas-CMD and even those from the LP.

He vowed to reduce the minority to a “bite-size” of 20 members.

The incoming House has about three PDP-Laban members. But their numbers are expected to increase if Alvarez wins the speakership.

Belmonte said on Tuesday he believes his track record as speaker in the last six years will not be lost on the lawmakers.

“The only thing going for me is during the six years I’ve been speaker, I earned the reputation for being fair to all the members regardless of the political affiliation – whether majority or minority. I feel that’s something going in my favor, plus the fact that I have no axes to grind,” he said.

Belmonte said he “admires the massive victory of the incoming president” and will support his programs for the sake of the country “as long as they do not contravene our basic law.”

He said he will campaign hard for the speakership even as he noted that he and Duterte worked together in a previous Congress under the speakership of Manuel Villar.

Belmonte said Duterte had voted for him when he ran for speaker.

“I do not see our differences in the past elections make much difference in our basic relations,” he said.

Agenda

 Alvarez, for his part, claimed he already has the support of 180 elected House members, including turncoats who have deserted their political parties just days after the May 9 elections to join the incoming administration.

“Politicians who are turncoats are fine, as long as they are loyal to the country. There are benefits of being part of the majority. We can’t avoid personal requests for districts. Those requests may be prioritized,” he said.

Alvarez added the Duterte administration would not hesitate to padlock an uncooperative Congress.

However, Alvarez said if he were elected speaker, he would prioritize shifting the nation from the unitary presidential type of government to a presidential-federal system.       – With Jess Diaz

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