Belmonte: Alvarez to become speaker
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - May 21, 2016 - 12:00am

NPC joins new coalition; defections seal power shift

MANILA, Philippines - As defections to the political party of incoming president Rodrigo Duterte continue, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said he is ready to relinquish the House leadership to Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez of PDP-Laban.

“It’s not just about him having the numbers; it’s only a matter of time that he’ll be speaker,” Belmonte told The STAR yesterday.

“I’ve thought this through,” Belmonte said, referring to the race for the speakership. “Why go through the agony and the effort? I’m OK.” 

On Thursday,  Alvarez went to Belmonte’s home in Quezon City to pave the way for a smooth transition of power in the chamber. Sources said Alvarez kept the door open for Belmonte to join the emerging new coalition in the House, but  the Speaker said he would stick it out with the Liberal Party (LP).

Alvarez has said the new minority would be reduced to a “bite size” of 20 members.

A major political realignment is taking shape ahead of Duterte’s officially assuming power, with the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) coalescing with his PDP-Laban and promising support for the speakership bid of Alvarez.

“This is to support president Rodrigo Duterte and congressman Pantaleon Alvarez as the next speaker of the House. It binds as well the entire apparatus of the party in support of their programs,” outgoing Deputy Speaker and NPC president Giorgidi Aggabao said yesterday after the signing of the pact in Makati City.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, who also signed the agreement as PDP-Laban president, said Duterte’s legislative agenda can be summarized as support for federalism, all-out search for peace and all-out war against crime, drugs and corruption; expansion of the middle class; tax reform; addressing the concerns of the common Filipino and inclusive growth.

Pimentel said he expects the NPC – the second biggest political party – to support Duterte’s core legislative agenda. Duterte is now the titular head of PDP-Laban after winning the presidency under its banner.

“I am very optimistic that since we have new partners, we can pursue the agenda of the president and Bebot Alvarez will be the new speaker of the House of Representatives,” he said.

Earlier this week, the Lakas-CMD led by Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and the Nacionalista Party (NP) of former Senate president Manuel Villar forged separate pacts with PDP-Laban signed by Duterte himself in Davao City.

Alvarez told reporters yesterday he expects the National Unity Party (NUP) to formalize their alliance today or in the next few days.

He also disclosed a large number of LP lawmakers have expressed support for him, with some even wanting to join PDP-Laban.

Fight on for plum posts

Forging alliances with the incoming party in power, in this case the PDP-Laban, is important to other parties as such could help secure plum positions in the House for some of their members.

Ironically, the PDP-Laban has only four members in the incoming House. The LP is currently the biggest political party in the country with 117 members in the House, which presently has 290 members.

The LP’s ranks in the House, however, are expected to be decimated as many of its members are set to swear their allegiance to PDP-Laban.

The NPC has over 40 members while the NUP, NP and Lakas have about over 10 each.

Party-list congressmen are also allocated some positions based on their relations with the House leadership.

At stake are over a hundred chairmanships and vice chairmanships of regular and special committees, posts of deputy speaker, majority leader and deputy majority leaders. The positions grant the holder additional staff and budgets as well as some degree of power.

The NP apparently was already able to obtain some favors with the designation of Las Piñas Rep. Mark Villar as public works secretary, while Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas is being eyed as majority leader.

Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya of NPC is being considered to chair the powerful committee on appropriations.

The election for speaker will be on 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 in the joint session of Congress.

The contender for speaker who loses becomes the minority leader, whose members are those who voted for him.

Alvarez told reporters that Belmonte had told him during their meeting that he remained supportive of Duterte and his policies but indicated that he would pursue his bid to be speaker for a third term.

Alvarez, who served as representative of his district from1998 to 2001, said some 50 LP members have expressed interest in joining PDP-Laban.

He said Belmonte has also told him that he has given LP members the freedom to chart their own political future in the chamber.

“The meeting was arranged by common friends. We’ve no issues,” Alvarez said, adding he and Duterte voted for Belmonte to be speaker in 2001. Alvarez earlier vowed to reduce the minority to a “bite size” of 20 members.

Belmonte confirmed their meeting and conceded that if he loses, he would be the minority leader. He also admitted that a large number of LP lawmakers would either be joining PDP-Laban or voting for his challenger.

Sources said the LP bloc supporting Duterte could still be able to wrangle committee chairmanships if it negotiates well with Alvarez and his party.

“If they (LP lawmakers) support Alvarez as a bloc, they don’t need to leave the LP to join the PDP-Laban,” the source said.

The Makabayan bloc, composed of “progressive” party-list congressmen, also met with Alvarez to explore possible areas of cooperation.

“He’s (Alvarez) still in the process of cobbling a majority coalition in the House, which may include the Makabayan bloc. No definite terms have been agreed on yet, as the situation remains in flux,” Makabayan president Satur Ocampo said.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said he would remain with LP and support Belmonte for speaker.

 

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