LP to regroup, may bolt House majority
Badly fragmented after the May national elections last year, the Liberal Party (LP) is regrouping in response to recent political developments, some of which party members think are reason enough to abandon Congress’ so-called supermajority.
“Definitely we are consolidating from the last elections. With the political situation, with the events happening … definitely lead us to strengthening our ranks,” LP secretary general and Quezon City Rep. Christopher “Kit” Belmonte told a press conference following a party caucus on Tuesday.
But the Liberals at the House of Representatives have deferred leaving the supermajority with the plenary voting on the death penalty bill expected to take place Wednesday.
The Liberal’s chair emeritus, former President Benigno Aquino led the three-hour caucus which was attended by party chair Vice President Leni Robredo, party president Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan and several senators and congressmen.
The Liberals were decimated soon after President Rodrigo Duterte took over, with the LP joining the supermajority in Congress led by Mr. Duterte’s Partido Demokratikong Pilipino (PDP)-Laban. Only five LP members remained with the independent majority bloc in the House.
But with the detention of the President’s harshest critic, Sen. Leila de Lima, the revelation of Davao Death Squad whistleblower Arturo Lascañas, and the sudden ouster of the LP senators from their committee chairmanships, the LP finds itself having to make some firm decisions.
New minority bloc?
Minority Leader Danilo Suarez said Wednesday Liberals in the House of Representatives could not simply constitute the new minority in the chamber, assuming they leave the supermajority.
“If they have enough numbers, can they be the minority? No, they have to change the Speaker first,” Suarez said, responding to queries on the status of Liberal members in the House following the Senate shakeup.
“The House has rules. Before you can move from one posture to another, you need the approval of the minority and the majority. Right now, they are in the supermajority,” said Suarez, a representative of Quezon.
Suarez said none of the Liberals in the House had so far made an application to join the minority.
The LP, the erstwhile ruling party, has 27 members in the House supermajority, while five other Liberals led by Representatives Edcel Lagman of Albay and Teddy Baguilat of Ifugao have formed an independent opposition group.
Lagman and Baguilat have been pressing their Liberal colleagues to bolt the majority, possibly leading to a sizable minority bloc. There are 18 in the official minority bloc led by Suarez, excluding the “Magnificent 7” group of Lagman and Baguilat.
But Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, a key ally of President Duterte, earlier hinted that the LP House members would stay in the majority coalition, noting that the two Houses of Congress had different leaderships and political divisions.
Kabayan Rep. Harry Roque, a minority congressman, predicted that the LP lawmakers would opt to stay in the supermajority unless forcibly kicked out by the House leadership, in the same way the LP senators had intended to remain in the supermajority until they were booted out.
Party leaders, including Aquino and Robredo, have been repeatedly asked whether the Liberal Party was poised to become the opposition party.
“If you are against some of the policies [of the administration] does that mean you already want to bring down the government? No,” Pangilinan said, even as he shot down rumors that the party was behind a plot to destabilize the Duterte presidency.
“There is no perfect government… It is our role as elected officials to point out if there are shortcomings [in the administration]. We are in a democracy,” he said.
He added that the Liberal Party would disagree with some programs as much as support those its members deem as beneficial to the people.
“It does not meant that because we criticize, we no longer have the right to speak, and they file charges and detain [us],” Pangilinan said, referring to de Lima.
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