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Lakas-Kampi-CMD merger in peril

Ramos, De Venecia lead 50 members in revolt

By Leila Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:29:00 09/09/2009

Filed Under: Inquirer Politics, Eleksyon 2010

MANILA, Philippines?The much-ballyhooed merger appears to be in trouble.

Staking a claim to the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats, 50 ?original? members of the party led by former President Fidel Ramos banded together Tuesday to protest its ?marriage? to the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi), and said they would coalesce with other major political parties to field their own standard-bearer.

The 50 Lakas members also passed a resolution reaffirming Ramos as the party?s chair emeritus, Pangasinan Rep. Jose de Venecia as its president, and others as its duly elected officers, according to De Venecia, who lost the speakership last year when he fell out of grace with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

De Venecia said the 50 were the last officials legally elected by the party in March 2008, and that Ms Arroyo?s subsequent appointments of other officers were invalid.

Per his account, De Venecia heads a newly formed committee that will recommend the political parties that Lakas-CMD will coalesce with for the 2010 polls.

But he refused to name the parties, saying the committee would still have to review the matter.

?Well, 50 of the first batch of Lakas originals who founded the party declared they will join forces and then coalesce with one of the major political parties to choose a presidential candidate who will lead the battle against poverty and corruption,? De Venecia said in a phone interview.

He scoffed at the capability of the Lakas-Kampi-CMD to field a presidential candidate, saying: ?How can they field a standard-bearer when there is no merger??

?Reigning party?

The group of 50 denounced the Lakas-Kampi merger as ?illegal and null and void,? and called on the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to stop the President and the officials of the merged party from using the name of Lakas.

The passage of the resolution denouncing the merger was reached upon the motion of former Senators Leticia Ramos-Shahani and Santanina Rasul and former Social Security System Commissioner Ildefonso Remolona.

De Venecia said his group affirmed that Lakas-CMD ?is a reigning party? because ?the merger is illegal, not approved and ratified by the Lakas National Assembly, and all the new officers [are] illegally elected.?

Ramos had earlier rejected the Lakas-Kampi merger as illegal and refused the post of chair emeritus offered to him by its officials.

In response, Lakas-Kampi officials had said they would try to woo Ramos to their fold.

But De Venecia said the former President?s presence at Tuesday?s meeting clearly showed where he stood on the issue.

De Venecia has also asked the Comelec to nullify the merger and to refrain from recognizing Lakas-Kampi-CMD as the dominant majority party.

His petition will be heard on Sept. 17.

?50? Who??

Asked to comment on the actions of the 50 Lakas members, Speaker Prospero Nograles did not appear impressed.

?Fifty members? Who? I doubt that info. Anyway, I hope they are not the ranking leaders but just the loyal followers of the former Speaker,? Nograles said in a text message.

Those who gathered at the meeting held at De Venecia?s residence in Makati City were former senators, Cabinet members, congressmen and officials of government corporations.

Among them were former Representatives Toti Cario, Jose Tan Ramirez, Bert Lumauig, Mars Pineda and Bojie Cabochan, Lakas treasurer Tony Vilar, Lakas deputy secretary general Luis Corral, and Lakas deputy executive director Mary Ann Robles.

Also present were Bert Zingapan, Col. Willy dela Cruz, former Transportation Secretary Luis Lagdameo, businessman Fernando Pea, law dean Amado Valdez, columnist Chit Pedrosa, Boy Saycon, Wainright Rivera, MD Rebueno, Freddie Jalasco, Ed Malay, Felipe Siapno, Teddy Manaois, Malvar Rama and June Battung.

De Venecia said the 50 Lakas members were only the first batch that would reclaim their party from the supposed illegal merger.

He said the original Lakas members would travel all over the country to meet with other members disgruntled with the merger and resentful of being edged out of their positions by Kampi members.

?Small group?

On the phone with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Lakas-Kampi-CMD secretary general Gabriel Claudio scoffed at the remarks of De Venecia et al. and said they should await the Comelec resolution on the coalition?s accreditation.

?What group or party are they claiming to represent now?? said Claudio, Ms Arroyo?s political adviser. ?That?s precisely why there?s a case for the registration and accreditation of the merger before the Comelec. Even former President Ramos said we should leave this to the Comelec and await its decision.?

Claudio added: ?Can that small group overturn the decision and support of overwhelming members representing Lakas and Kampi at all levels of governance nationwide??

Prospero Pichay, coalition vice president for membership, said De Venecia and company could not represent Lakas-CMD because they were not occupying posts in the party before the merger.

He pointed out that Speaker Nograles was Lakas president when the merger took place.

?They can?t use Lakas-CMD. They are not the majority of Lakas-CMD,? Pichay said on the phone.

Claudio agreed, saying Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Secretary Silvestre Bello, Edgardo Pamintuan, himself and many others ?are no less Lakas originals than they are.?

And until the Comelec rules on the issue, both Claudio and Pichay said, it was premature for De Venecia?s group to claim the merger was illegal.

?This is being argued in the Comelec,? Claudio said. ?I suggest we follow the admonition of the chair emeritus, former President Ramos, that we leave the matter to the Comelec and await its decision.?

Claudio also said De Venecia?s decision to convene the group and announce that it would coalesce with others did not come as a surprise.

?JDV has ... a commitment with one or more presidential aspirants outside of the administration,? Claudio said without elaborating. With a report from TJ Burgonio

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