Maria Isabelle Climaco

Belmonte brings together much bigger House coalition

Belmonte brings together much bigger House coalition
By Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines — A runaway winner in the battle for speakership, Quezon City Representative Feliciano Belmonte Jr. has forged an alliance in the House of Representatives much bigger than the “rainbow coalition” of then Speaker Jose de Venecia.

Unlike in the Senate where the battle for the presidency of that chamber went almost down the wire, the race for the speakership was settled fairly early—just days after the May 10 elections, when it was clear that Benigno S. Aquino III would emerge as the new President.

The only question then was how many would vote for Belmonte as the top honcho in the chamber, according to Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali Gonzales II, who is set to be named as House majority leader and chairman of the House committee on rules.

Belmonte is expected to be formally elected Speaker when the 15th Congress holds its inaugural session on Monday.

About 220 to 230 representatives from the Liberal Party, Lakas-Kampi-Christian-Muslim Democrats, Nationalist People’s Coalition, Nacionalista Party, Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino and other parties and party-list groups were expected to vote for Belmonte. His colleagues said this was a reflection of Mr. Aquino’s current popularity.

“This is much bigger than former House Speaker Jose de Venecia’s much vaunted rainbow coalition,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales has yet to come up with a name for the Belmonte coalition after some members rejected his initial proposal to call it the “Coalition for Conscience and Reform.”

Belmonte was also the Speaker in the 11th Congress, before he served three straight terms as Quezon City mayor from 2001.

In an interview during a “show of force” meeting at Edsa Shangri-La Hotel on Friday, Belmonte refused to be caught up in the euphoria over his imminent election as Speaker, declining to talk about his plans before Monday’s voting.

Backed by Mr. Aquino’s mass support, Belmonte is expected to move bills much faster into laws, especially after the minority Lakas-Kampi-CMD party declared that it would not be a “contravida” in the 15th Congress, even though its leader is Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, whom Aquino had opposed when she was president.

“We will not be obstructionists. We will cooperate with the new administration to ensure that reforms promised by the new administration and which our party believes in will be implemented,” said Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez.

Suarez has agreed to a term-sharing with Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, who was likely to be elected minority leader on Monday. Suarez said he would take over the post after one and a half years.

Although the Liberal Party has only 70 members in the House—second to Lakas-Kampi’s 80—the party of Mr. Aquino expects to corner much of the spoils given to the ruling party.

Named deputies of incoming Speaker Belmonte, whose number has increased from four to six, are Quezon Rep. Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada, Northern Samar Rep. Raul Daza and Zamboanga City Rep. Maria Isabelle Climaco from the Liberal Party; Cavite Rep. Jesus Crispin Remulla from the Nacionalista Party; Camarines Sur Rep. Arnulfo Fuentebella from the Nationalist People’s Coalition; and Cebu Rep. Pablo Garcia from Lakas-Kampi-CMD.