Belmonte, LP join Duterte’s coalition
DAVAO CITY—Still yellow, but of different shade, in a multicolored “superparty.”
Outgoing Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and other members of the Liberal Party (LP) flew here on Tuesday and met with President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, a development which could further solidify the incoming administration’s hold on the 17th Congress.
Belmonte also announced his support for incoming Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez of Duterte’s Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) in the speakership race in the House of Representatives.
Alvarez briefly met with the Speaker and his nephew, reelected Quezon City Rep. Kit Belmonte, at the Marco Polo Hotel before they drove off to Duterte’s temporary office at the Presidential Guesthouse in Barangay Panacan here.
“He’s got it in the bag,” a smiling Belmonte told reporters, addressing Alvarez, who was standing next to him, as the “incoming Speaker.”
His statement ended weeks of speculation that he might challenge Alvarez for the speakership or settle as minority leader.
Belmonte said the LP, the decimated political party of President Aquino and defeated administration candidate Mar Roxas, opted to coalesce with the PDP-Laban after weeks of consultation with its members.
The Speaker said he was aware that some of his party mates had already opted to bolt the LP and join Duterte’s party.
Belmonte said LP’s support for Duterte was also in deference to the big number of votes he garnered in the May 9 presidential election.
“With the big mandate he received, I think Duterte is entitled to expect that we should help him (ensure) that his mandate becomes a reality,” he said.
Asked if he would leave the LP and join the PDP-Laban, Belmonte said: “We are talking of a coalition at the moment. We never know what happens next.”
“To tell you frankly, (PDP-Laban) was my first party actually after the Edsa People Power Revolution (in 1986). But others started to organize all sorts of (political) parties,” he said.
To which Alvarez replied in jest, “So it’s not about (Belmonte) leaving the party, but it’s about him returning to PDP-Laban.”
Belmonte said he and Alvarez were still discussing how many LP members would stay with the party and how many would take their oath as PDP-Laban members.
According to Alvarez, the new ruling party would have more than 80 members when the 17th Congress opens in July.
Besides the LP, he said members of other major political parties such as the Nationalist People’s Coalition, National Unity Party and Lakas-CMD had also assured him of their support.
Alvarez said the “supermajority” led by PDP-Laban would have over 200 members in the 290-member House.
Told about criticisms regarding political turncoats, Belmonte said the decision of some lawmakers to support the party of the sitting President was not unique to the Philippines.
Unlike in European nations, most of which have a parliamentary system of government, having different political parties in the presidential form of government poses difficulties for the incumbent President, he said.
Belmonte cited the experience of US President Barack Obama, a Democrat, whose legislative agenda had been blocked by the Republican-dominated Senate and House.
“We cannot afford doing that. We don’t like stalemates. We have to keep on moving,” he said. “All of us are running on the promise of good governance, but only the President is the one single guy who embodies an idea and leadership.”
Belmonte sought to assure Alvarez of the LP’s support for Duterte’s primary legislative agenda.
But he admitted that some LP members were adamant in joining the coalition because of their “reservations” on the three main legislative matters which Duterte wanted to pursue in Congress—the reimposition of the death penalty, the shift to federalism and the amendment to the law on youth offenders.
“That’s very true,” Belmonte said when asked if some LP members raised opposing views during their discussion on joining the coalition.
“There are some (LP members) with reservations on some provisions … (but) I’m hopeful that we can thresh it out,” he added.
“I myself have no problem with it. Some of the members do have a problem with it, (but) we’re confident that we will be able to thresh it out.”
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