LP cracks seen in Belmonte-Gonzales opposition to term limit lifting, special powers
MANILA, Philippines — Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales are making no secret of their opposition to President Aquino’s inclination for another term and written request for emergency powers to avert a power crisis in 2015. Are these signs that the ruling political party is on the verge of splitting up less than two years before the 2016 elections?
But Liberal Party (LP) leaders believe that its members, including Belmonte and Gonzales, would have no choice but to follow the party stand on the proposed Charter change for the lifting term limits and the grant of special powers.
Iloilo Rep. Jerry Treñas said: “There is no LP stand on the issue. Once there is a party stand, everyone will toe the line. In the meantime, everyone is free to have his own opinion.”
“Well that is the character of the Liberal Party, we are free to ventilate our own opinion until a party stand comes into motion,” said Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice in a text message.
Both Belmonte and Gonzales used to be the President’s trustworthy field commanders who plotted and implemented his initiatives in the House of Representatives — from the impeachment of former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and former Chief Justice Renato Corona to the enactment of highly divisive legislation such as the Reproductive Health and sin tax bills.
In the last few weeks, Belmonte and Gonzales have declared they would oppose moves to include the lifting of term limits in a pending Charter Change bill limited only to economic provisions that the two of them shepherded. Both have also expressed a lack of interest in giving the President’s emergency powers arguing that this would not be the solution to the power supply shortfall in 2015.
Four non-LP House members see this rare disagreement between leaders of Malacañang and the Lower House as a sign that the ruling party is in tatters.
Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III, a member of the House minority bloc, asked: “Who are the members of LP? You have the old and the new LP. Who do you think the new LP would tend to support come 2016?”
Both Belmonte and Gonzales were members of the Lakas-Kampi, the ruling party under the Arroyo administration, until just a few weeks before the May 2010 elections when they jumped ship and joined the LP.
With the LP’s presumed 2016 bet, Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II, lagging behind in recent 2016 presidential surveys, Albano expected LP members to converge to the most likely winner who, at this point, has been Vice President Jejomar Binay, based on recent popularity surveys. “To the victor belongs the political balimbings (a local multi-sided fruit also used to mean turncoats in politics),” said Albano.
ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio said that differences between the House leadership and Malacañang on the issue of charter change also betrayed “the contradictions seething within the LP.”
“The LP, just like other ruling parties previously, cobbled together its majority from politicos of other traditional parties who gravitated to the winning party on the basis of self-interest. As such, underneath the facade of unity, the LP is highly factionalized, its cohesion provisional. Certainly, these contradictions will become more pronounced the closer we get to the elections,” said Tinio.
Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza, former LP chair in the previous administration, said the divergence in stand between LP bigwigs would be a “good test” to the party’s unity ahead of the 2016 elections.
Albano said the LP would have to convince more than its members to grant the President’s wish to run for a second term since the LP members were not enough for the three-fourth votes needed in the House and the Senate to change the single-term limit in the Constitution.
Western Samar Rep. and LP secretary-general Mel Senen Sarmiento said this apparent difference in opinion was “liberalism at its best.” “We will conduct a caucus at the soonest time to come up with the best possible approach in attaining PNoy’s call re emergency power,” said Sarmiento.
Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon said that some LP leaders might have realized the need to reserve “political capital” by not fighting battles they could not win. “There is the danger that Aquino would not be different from Marcos who sought another term and more powers,” said Ridon.
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