Belmonte, others to join House coalition
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and a dozen other members of the Liberal Party (LP) in the House of Representatives are scheduled to fly to Davao City today to meet with President-elect Rodrigo Duterte as a prelude to their joining the new ruling coalition led by Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban).
A Congress source, who spoke on condition that his name be withheld for lack of authority to speak to the media, said that Belmonte and the LP had agreed to join the majority bloc in the 17th Congress and elect incoming Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez as the Speaker.
“The presumptive Speaker Alvarez does not want the LP to be on either side of the fence. They must either be minority or majority. Belmonte has decided to join the majority to keep the LP intact,” the source said.
In a text message, Belmonte confirmed his Davao City trip, but he declined to comment on whether this meeting with Duterte was a sign that the LP was officially joining the Coalition for Change led by PDP-Laban.
“Several congressmen I understand are going to Davao. I will also go. But the majority of the LP members seem to want to join the majority,” he said in a text message.
Belmonte earlier said that President Aquino himself had endorsed the LP’s plan to join the majority bloc.
The PDP-Laban vice chair, incoming Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, described today’s event as a meet-and-greet with the signing of a coalition agreement likely to take place on another date.
“It’s just a courtesy call. I think Speaker Belmonte and other LP leaders would just like to congratulate President-elect Duterte,” Cusi said in a phone interview.
Cusi said the LP should agree to support the majority coalition’s priority legislative agenda, including push for constitutional amendments to shift from a unitary form of government to federalism and the reimposition of the death penalty.
Less than a month after the May 9 elections, Cusi said PDP-Laban had already increased its membership from three, including Alvarez, to over 60 members in the 17th Congress.
He said at least 45 members of its recruits were from the LP, including Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas; Iloilo Rep. Jerry Treñas, chair of the LP membership and organizing committee; Catanduanes Rep. Cesar Sarmiento; and Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali.
There were 115 LP members who won seats in the 17th Congress. Based on Cusi’s statement, only 70 lawmakers are left with the LP.
But the LP ranks are expected to be depleted further with Alvarez expecting as much as 80 of its members to join PDP-Laban.
Hem and hew over
The Davao trip would end days of hemming and hawing by Belmonte. This began with his plan to extend his rule as Speaker and later hinting that he could serve as a minority leader in the next Congress.
If Belmonte insists on being the minority leader, the LP ranks will most likely be decimated and reduced to fewer than a dozen members.
Cusi said Belmonte and the LP leaders had yet to sit down with PDP-Laban to discuss the terms of their coalition.
Other major political parties have joined Duterte’s Coalition for Change. These are Nacionalista Party, Nationalist People’s Coalition, National Unity Party, Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats and the Party-List Coalition.
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