3-way fight seen for House Speaker
ONCE upon a time, many of the lawmakers sported the color yellow.
That is why in a Congress whose members have a tradition of coalescing with whoever occupies Malacañang, forming a majority in its two chambers to carry out a Duterte administration legislative agenda should be no sweat.
A three-way fight is looming in the race for House Speaker in the 17th Congress as presumptive President Rodrigo Duterte moves to establish a “super majority” to repel any impeachment attempt from disgruntled groups.
The sentimental favorite is Duterte’s friend, former Transportation Secretary Pantaleon Alvarez of PDP-Laban, who won the congressional race in the first district of Davao del Norte.
But the practical choice is Duterte’s kin, Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles, of the National Unity Party (NUP), who claimed to have gathered at least half of the expected 300 House members.
A long-shot bet is Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. of the Liberal Party (LP).
The NUP secretary, Reginald Velasco, said Alvarez, who served in Congress from 1998 to 2001, has to prove that he could muster the votes from other political parties.
He said Alvarez is so far the only PDP-Laban member in the 17th Congress.
Velasco said Alvarez had no time to prepare for a run for Speaker because he was busy ensuring his win, unlike Nograles who ran unopposed and was focused on campaigning for Duterte.
In a phone interview, Nograles said the NUP with its nucleus of 20 members and 20 allied party-list members, would serve as the lead party in a Duterte coalition.
Velasco said Alvarez’s recruiting skills paled in comparison to Nograles’ who would be in his third term in the incoming Congress and is getting good advice from his father, former House Speaker Prospero Nograles.
Velasco explained that Duterte was practically in the same boat as President Aquino when he won in 2010—LP, only had 40 core members that ballooned to nearly 120 in the last six years.
Nograles said his mandate from Duterte was not only to get half of the House members but to secure a “super majority” or two-thirds of its members, to ensure that the minority would not have the numbers to carry out their impeachment threat against Duterte, especially if Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo wins as Vice President.
“That’s why even if we have 150 members on our side, we need to recruit more to remove any threat,” Nograles said.
Only one-third vote of the House members is needed to impeach a President and put him on trial in the Senate. Nograles pointed out that the LP would have the numbers (both in the House and the Senate) and the motive to oust Duterte so this was the biggest concern of the incoming administration.
Velasco said he believed that Belmonte was closing ranks among the LP members to form a potent minority block.
But Belmonte doused speculations that he would join any plot to unseat Duterte and that he considered himself a strong candidate to continue his rule as Speaker in the 17th Congress.
In a phone interview, Belmonte confirmed that he considered himself in the running for a third straight term as Speaker. He said he had no intention of supporting impeachment moves against Duterte.
Belmonte said being the first President from Mindanao, Duterte could actually be the best man to bring peace to the “troubled promised land.”
Former An Waray Rep. Florencio “Bem” Noel said Belmonte was a “popular” leader and widely considered as “fair.”
“I think he can carve up a coalition to the satisfaction of Mayor Duterte,” Noel said.
The House, no matter its composition, has traditionally coalesced with whoever is in Malacañang.
PDP-Laban only has one member in the Senate, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, who is also the party’s leader.
Asked if he would become the next Senate President, Pimentel said in a phone interview, “We need to work together with the other parties to form the majority coalition.”
Duterte may get the backing of Nacionalista Party (NP) in the Senate.
His running mate, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, is an NP member. The other NP members in the Senate are Senators Cynthia Villar and Antonio Trillanes IV, a Duterte critic.
The LP could have five of its members and a sixth ally in the Senate in June: Franklin Drilon, Joel Villanueva, Francis Pangilinan, Ralph Recto and Leila de Lima. Risa Hontiveros of Akbayan, an administration candidate, is also in the winning circle.
“Once upon a time, we all sported the same color—yellow,” Pimentel said.
Pimentel said he would fly to Davao City today (Wednesday) to map out the strategy for Duterte’s legislative agenda, including the convening of a constitutional convention for a shift to federalism and the 2017 budget.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.