Neptali Gonzales

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.

Solon turns Teodoro green to Villar orange in a snap

Solon turns Teodoro green to Villar orange in a snap
By TJ Burgonio, Jhunnex Napallacan
Philippine Daily Inquirer, Inquirer Visayas

MANILA, Philippines—He made it as easy as changing campaign baller IDs.

Romblon Rep. Eleandro Jesus Madrona took his oath before Sen. Manuel Villar on Monday afternoon only hours after he attended a meeting of Lakas-Kampi-CMD lawmakers presenting a show of force for Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro Jr.

“He was there with us to pledge support for Teodoro,” the ruling party’s secretary general Raymundo Roquero said over the phone, expressing disbelief at Madrona’s turnaround. “It’s his problem to explain himself to his constituents.”

Party officials were pleasantly surprised by the turnout of 130 lawmakers at the meeting despite short notice. But Madrona’s defection to Villar’s Nacionalista Party (NP) spoiled the mood.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo stopped by the hastily called meeting at Dusit Thani Manila hotel at around 2 p.m., and exhorted party mates and allies to “stick together” for the administration standard-bearer.

Teodoro himself showed up at the meeting. But he left before Ms Arroyo arrived, saying he had to travel to Antipolo City for an earlier scheduled lunch with local officials.

Later, Madrona, along with Romblon Gov. Natalio Beltran, the vice gubernatorial candidate, and 16 mayoral candidates took their oath before Villar at the NP headquarters in StarMall in Mandaluyong City.

Madrona, who chaired the House committee on accounts during Villar’s term as Speaker, did not return calls from the Inquirer.

No funds

Villar’s camp issued a press statement confirming Madrona’s presence at the oath-taking, as did reelectionist Mayor Nanette Tansingco of San Fernando town.

Beltran is the Lakas-Kampi-CMD provincial chair, and Madrona, the district chair.

But Tansingco said Madrona, Beltran and the rest of the administration’s local candidates filed letters of resignation from the party as early as April 3.

“The funds aren’t trickling down to our level; we’re not being given agriculture projects. And we are the administration candidates,” Tansingco rued on the phone.

House Deputy Speaker Amelita Villarosa, party chair, confirmed seeing Madrona at the Dusit Thani meeting.

“But I didn’t see him sign the manifesto,” she said by phone, referring to the lawmakers’ manifesto declaring loyalty to the party and “all-out” support for Teodoro.

The meeting was called in the wake of the recent defections of Albay Gov. Joey Salceda and Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali Gonzales II to the Liberal Party (LP), and the threat by Speaker Prospero Nograles to defect to Villar’s camp.

Madrona’s beef

Roquero said Madrona had complained that acting Agriculture Secretary Bernie Fondevilla was “campaigning” for his rival, incumbent Vice Gov. Alice Fetalvero of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), who is seeking a House seat.

But Villarosa said Madrona was concerned about “agriculture projects.”

She declined to go into specifics beyond saying: “He has valid concerns. But I told him this isn’t something that can be resolved by his transfer. That’s his personal choice. But whether he comes back or not, we will fix his problem.”

She did not discount the possibility that the issue would eventually reach Ms Arroyo.

According to Roquero, party mates were “inspired” by the turnout of 130 congressmen at the meeting, even though only 80 had confirmed attendance.

“We talked about strategies. Everyone was very enthusiastic,” he said, pointing out that the campaign was “catching fire” as more groups of youth, workers, farmers and drivers were volunteering to campaign for Teodoro.

Roquero dismissed as black propaganda a reported move to dump Edu Manzano as Teodoro’s running mate in favor of Bagumbayan vice presidential candidate Bayani Fernando.

“This is just an attempt to drive a wedge between Edu and Gibo and the senatorial candidates, but this won’t prosper,” he said.

Human chain

There was another show of force Tuesday for Teodoro, this time at Cebu Marco Polo Hotel.

At one point, 31 incumbent governors and 12 candidates for governor who called themselves “Team Palabra de Honor” formed a human chain around Teodoro to reaffirm their support.

They also signed a manifesto expressing their commitment to him.

Villarosa announced that Lakas-Kampi-CMD had a new member in the person of Negros Oriental Gov. George Arnaiz, formerly of the NPC.

She said Teodoro now had the support of 56 governors and candidates for governors, though some were not present at Tuesday’s gathering.

Teodoro’s visit to Cebu came at a time when Villar was himself in the city for an earlier scheduled rally at the Cebu Coliseum.

Villar declined to comment on the governors’ show of support for Teodoro, and only said he was grateful that a number of Cebu leaders, notably Representatives Eduardo Gullas (first district) and Nerissa Soon-Ruiz (6th district), had bolted the ruling party and endorsed his candidacy.

Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, who organized the meeting of governors to reaffirm support for Teodoro, had herself been kept busy by the defection of a number of her local allies to Villar’s camp.

She called for a series of meetings last week to keep her One Cebu party members in line—mayors, mayoral candidates and even congressmen who were earlier reported to have defected, or were about to shift their support, to Villar.

Disinformation etc.

Speaking with reporters after meeting the governors, Teodoro said the past weeks had been filled with “disinformation, misinformation, mal-information and all other information.”

But he said that with the governors’ strong support, the public would see the truth.

“Today, once again … our people will know something, the simple truth—who supports whom, who has defected, who has not. But besides that and more importantly, this is a reaffirmation of a covenant … for genuine local autonomy, community-based development, sustainable development and strong partnership between the national and local governments,” Teodoro said.

“Undeniably, this has national political impact because this will clear the air [of] those who want to destroy good intentions. We have never engaged in mudslinging or bad politics, so we appeal to the public that this is the truth of who supports whom, the bond that we have together—One Visayas, One Cebu and One Philippines,” he said.

He added that the governors’ support was a humbling experience, expressed his and his family’s profound gratitude to all of them.

After Teodoro’s speech, Governor Garcia read aloud the manifesto in which the governors pledged to work for Teodoro’s election.


Teodoro visited Cebu amid speculation that another One Cebu member, Rep. Benhur Salimbangon (4th district), would defect to Villar’s camp.

On Tuesday, Cebu Daily News ran a photo showing Salimbangon’s hand being raised by Villar’s wife, Las Piñas Rep. Cynthia Villar, together with Gullas, Soon-Ruiz (who is running for mayor of Mandaue City) and her husband Lito Ruiz, who is running for the post that she would vacate.

The photo was taken at the house of Soon-Ruiz during a meeting last week, according to one of her allies who provided the photo to CDN.

Another photo showed Salimbangon and other officials in the 4th district posing with Cynthia Villar and showing the Villar hand sign.

But Salimbangon Tuesday insisted that he was not bolting Lakas-Kampi-CMD and would continue to back Teodoro.

In turn, Teodoro said he trusted Salimbangon, whom he described as a “friend and kumpare.”

Defections not as bad as expected–Lakas

Defections not as bad as expected–Lakas
By Cathy C. Yamsuan
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—No need to press the panic button, the chief recruitment officer of the Lakas-Kampi-CMD declared Thursday, as he noted that only two percent of the candidates fielded by the party nationwide had defected to other camps.

“We are not really that alarmed,” said Rep. Prospero “Butch” Pichay, Lakas-Kampi vice president for recruitment and membership in downplaying the apparent bleeding of the administration party.

“We were expecting a fatality rate of around 10 percent at this point of the campaign,” he added, suggesting that the party could well manage a two-percent attrition rate.

Pichay said that since its candidates were contesting 75 percent of local elected positions nationwide, Lakas-Kampi “remains the dominant party as of now.”

Pichay was moving to present a brave front after the successive departures from the ruling party of stalwarts including Bukidnon Gov. Jose Zubiri, Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali Gonzales Jr., former Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis “Chavit” Singson and most recently, Albay Gov. Jose “Joey” Salceda.

Speaker Prospero Nograles, another ranking Lakas-Kampi member, is at loggerheads with party standard-bearer Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro, triggering speculations that he will also leave shortly.

“The perception is that many are leaving but the command votes (that come) with those who did are not really that much,” Pichay said.

He explained to reporters how he arrived at the two-percent figure: “Out of the candidates in that 75 percent, only four so far have defected. If we’re talking about their districts, that’s only 150,000 to 200,000 votes.”

Pichay said a meeting of the remaining Lakas-Kampi members would be called but failed to give its date.

“We’re going to call (for) a meeting (where members would be) asked to renew their loyalty to the party. I’m sure (the President) is sad about (the defections) but she will always respect any decision to stay or to go. We are a democratic country and we have a democratic party,” he said.

Pichay also said that he did not believe the defections were harmful to Teodoro’s candidacy.

Since the two leading presidential candidates, Senators Benigno Aquino III and Manuel Villar, were now “engaged in mudslinging,” Pichay said, it was possible that voters would become disenchanted, pushing them to switch to Teodoro.

“They (Aquino and Villar) are throwing mud at each other. I think Gibo’s rating would still go up while that of his opponents have already peaked and could go down in the remaining weeks,” Pichay said.

Teodoro: My rallies belie surveys

Teodoro: My rallies belie surveys
By TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Come to my rallies, and see for yourself who the voters are rooting for.

Fired up by the mammoth crowd at Friday night’s rally in Mandaluyong City, Gilbert Teodoro Jr. aired this challenge to survey firms, as he rallied the youth to stand up for him and be counted.

“Let them match what happened tonight. No entertainers, no controlled crowd,” he said in a fiery speech from a stage on Nueve de Febrero Street, drawing roars of approval from the thick crowd.

“This is a turning point. Amid all the black propaganda, people came out to show their support for all of us. And amid all the mind-conditioning of surveys and what have you, this is the real survey.

“I’ll match the anonymous 1,500 respondents that they usually ask for their surveys with the 30,000 who are now here—1,500 against 30,000. I’ll place all my bets on you.”

From Day One of the campaign, Teodoro has trailed Sen. Benigno Aquino III of the Liberal Party, Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. of the Nacionalista Party and deposed President Joseph Estrada of the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino in the surveys, coming in fourth with a rating of 6 to 8 percent.

With a month to go before election day, Teodoro’s administration-backed Lakas-Kampi-CMD party is beset by defections from local officials jumping over to parties higher up on the survey charts.

Facing the press later inside a covered air-conditioned tent beside the stage, Teodoro said he was “humbled” by the huge turnout.

His stringent appeal: “To all our volunteers, to the youth, to the students, this is the time to come out and make a stand. Make your voices heard, and make the people feel your strength.”

Of the undecided, he said: “We will convince the undecided by saying that competence and credibility are the key to the future of this country.”

The ruling party said it was banking on the grassroots support of more than 1,400 gubernatorial, congressional and mayoral candidates, and the youth to buck the odds, and score a victory.

The “big party” in Mandaluyong was meant to show that the city, which has 200,000 registered voters, was solidly behind Teodoro, said Mayor Benhur Abalos Jr.

He said that he, vice mayoral candidate Rene Sta. Maria, the candidates for councilor, and 26 of the 27 barangay chairpersons were “campaigning hard” for Teodoro.

“We want to tell the rest of the country that we don’t believe in surveys,” Abalos told reporters.

Teodoro had ruled out any meeting with front-runner Aquino and Estrada that could lead to his withdrawal from the presidential race.

A major TV network had reported that the camps of Aquino and Estrada had been making overtures to Teodoro to withdraw his candidacy and accept a Cabinet post or other such concession from them.

He reiterated that he had not met—and has no plans to meet—with Aquino or Estrada, and that he was not interested in any Cabinet post.

“You know my running is not because of my own interest in a Cabinet post…First and foremost I’m running to win this election,” he said.

“Secondly, I have a party to support which I will not desert. This is beyond me already. It’s for Mayor Benhur, for his constituents, for the senators, for Edu [Manzano], for the volunteers. It can’t be compromised.”

Abalos for his part, admitted that he and his father, former Commission on Elections Chair Benjamin Abalos Sr., parted ways in their choice for President. The latter opted to cast his lot with Villar.

“I believe in Gibo, but my father has another candidate in mind,” the younger Abalos said. “I respect him, but I’m sticking to my stand.

“He’s no longer in government. He had his own problems, and he was not even helped by Malacañang,” he said, referring to the elder Abalos’ indictment for his role in the scuttled $329-M National Broadband Network deal. “He has nothing more to do with Malacañang.”

The rally came four days after reelectionist Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali “Boyet” Gonzales II announced that he was crossing over to the LP.

At Teodoro’s proclamation at the Philippine International Convention Center in November last year, Teodoro personally picked Gonzales to deliver the nominating speech.

Of all the defections, Gonzales’ was the “most shocking,” according to a party official.

Teodoro rejects Cabinet offer from Aquino camp, says spokesman

Teodoro rejects Cabinet offer from Aquino camp, says spokesman
By TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Lakas-Kampi-CMD has rejected an offer for its standard-bearer Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro Jr. to back out of the presidential race and support Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III in exchange for a Cabinet post.

LP stalwarts made the offer after administration big guns, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda and Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali Gonzales III, crossed over to their camp, a move that shocked the administration party.

“He finds no rhyme or reason to withdraw from the race. Being the people’s candidate, he has to finish and win this race,” Teodoro’s spokesperson, Mike Toledo, said by phone.

With the campaign turning into “taunting and disinformation,” the 45-year-old Teodoro was more convinced that the Filipinos deserved a “new brand of politics,” he said.

“He’s more convinced that the Filipinos deserve a new brand of politics—a principled and issue-driven politics—and that can only be achieved under a Teodoro administration,” Toledo said.

Besides, Teodoro has time and again declared that “only God can make him withdraw,” Toledo added.

Misamis Occidental Gov. Loreto Leo Ocampos, chair of the League of Provinces of the Philippines who crossed over to the Liberal Party several weeks ago, made the offer on ANC’s “Strictly Politics” program Tuesday night.

The offer came as rumors swirled that Salceda was joining the LP and a day after Gonzales announced his defection to the party.

Aquino has consistently topped the polls, trailed by Sen. Manuel Villar Jr., deposed President Joseph Estrada and Teodoro.

Toledo also said he doubted that Aquino, the LP standard-bearer, would make the offer to Teodoro, saying he believed there was mutual respect between the cousins.

“Senator Noynoy knows Gibo well enough not to bring that up. Noynoy respects Gibo,” he said, referring to the offer.

Lakas-Kampi-CMD secretary general Raymundo Roquero, for his part, laughed off reports that the camps of Aquino and Estrada had been making overtures to Teodoro to gain his support.

“They have casual talk during presidential forums. But that’s all there is to it. There are no arranged meetings,” Roquero said in a telephone interview. “There is no such talk being hatched.”

Teodoro flew to Davao City Friday morning to meet with local supporters and attend a forum for presidential candidates.

He was scheduled to fly back to Manila in time for a rally in Mandaluyong City later Friday night organized by Mayor Benhur Abalos to show that city residents were solidly behind him despite Gonzales’ defection to the LP.

“This is to showcase the overwhelming support of Mandaluyong City for Gibo Teodoro,” Roquero said.

Despite the defections, the party has a lock on the support of 43 re-electionist governors out of 80 gubernatorial positions available, and eight former governors; 169 congressional candidates out of 230 positions in the House of Representatives; 1,100 municipal mayoral candidates out of 1,500 slots, and 100 city mayoral candidates out of 130 slots, according to Roquero.

“They are getting substantial offers from an opposition party, but they remain solid and loyal to Gibo,” he said.

With the support of these candidates, plus the youth, Teodoro could score a victory, he said.

“Nobody is assured of victory here. The survey firms should stop publishing their results. They are not a reflection of the sentiments of the people,” Roquero said. “We see long-drawn out battle in this election. There may be a `come from behind victory’.”

Roquero also clarified that the release of funds to national and local candidates was being scheduled amid reports that some, including Teodoro, have not received their share.

“Teodoro has not mentioned anything about funding,” he said.

Arroyo’s economic guru leaving her for Aquino

Arroyo’s economic guru leaving her for Aquino
By Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., Philip Tubeza, Jerome Aning
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—One of the men President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo heavily relies on, her top economic adviser Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, is leaving Lakas-Kampi-CMD to join the campaign of front-running Liberal Party presidential candidate Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

A source in Salceda’s camp said the former student at the Ateneo de Manila University of Ms Arroyo would make a formal announcement as soon as he had personally taken leave of the President.

The same source, who sought anonymity for lack of authority to speak on the matter, said Salceda had already invited Aquino’s sister, television host Kris Aquino, to be his special guest at the Miss Magayon rites, one of the highlights of the Albay festival this month.

Salceda’s departure is seen as a big blow to the bid of Lakas-Kampi-Christian Muslim Democrats standard-bearer Gilbert Teodoro who had taken the financial guru as one of his campaign strategists.

Irreplaceable fixture

Salceda, who was the highest paid stock market analyst in Asia before entering politics in 1998, helped Ms Arroyo craft the fiscal reform program anchored on a value-added tax increase that boosted the government’s finances and propelled the country to an unprecedented 32 straight quarters of economic growth.

Despite having once referred to President Arroyo as a “lucky bitch” and admitting that the number of poor Filipinos had increased despite the glowing economic data, Salceda remained an irreplaceable fixture in the President’s inner circle.

In Cebu Tuesday, Aquino said the LP was expecting an “avalanche” of politicians to join the party.

He hinted that another prominent administration official—believed to be Salceda—was joining the LP after Deputy House Speaker Neptali Gonzales II who bolted the ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD which has been rocked by defections.

“I cannot preempt them but I can guarantee that their numbers will increase … Next week you will be surprised because one of the stalwarts of the present administration will join our campaign,” said Aquino in a press conference.

“We are also wrapping up some negotiations with other parties.

“As Election Day nears, I think those who will join us will become an avalanche,” he added.

‘Arroyo et al. to blame’

Aquino made the announcement as he prepared to hold a motorcade through Cebu cities considered to be the bailiwick of Cebu Rep. Eduardo Gullas, who is backing the Nacionalista Party’s presidential candidate Sen. Manuel Villar.

Former President Fidel Ramos has blamed President Arroyo and other top party leaders for the defections and other problems confronting Lakas-Kampi-CMD.

At a media briefing Monday night at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport after his arrival from the annual Boao Forum for Asia in China, Ramos said he was not surprised by the defections.

He reiterated that the mechanics of the coalition between Lakas-CMD, of which he is a cofounder, and Kampi had not been thoroughly threshed out.

Asked who was to blame for the defections, Ramos turned his head, looked behind him where a picture of Ms Arroyo was hanging, and said: “It’s probably because of a few persons led by …”

Dictated upon

He said certain people in the party, and not its standard-bearer Teodoro, continued to call the shots.

“It seems they are being dictated upon. This doesn’t come from Teodoro, but from above him,” Ramos said.

Ramos declined to comment on what was happening in the party. But he said that “something new and dramatic will come up soon.”

Lakas-Kampi shrinking, but more unified: official

Lakas-Kampi shrinking, but more unified: official

MANILA, Philippines – A top official of the ruling Lakas-Kampi Christian Muslim Democrats on Tuesday said the political party is becoming more unified despite a wave of defections by Lakas-Kampi party members.

In an interview on ANC’s “Dateline Philippines”, Lakas-Kampi vice-chairman Oscar Moreno said the political party is becoming more streamlined, contrary to reports that it is slowly disintegrating.

“It is admitted that [our] number is getting smaller but smaller it may seem but it’s getting more solid and unified. I would rather call it a maturing and streamlining process. It’s a transformation of Lakas,” he said.

He noted that at least 150 Lakas-CMD members won in the congressional election in 1998. He said that of that number, less than 30 have remained after joining the party of would-be Speaker Manny Villar.

Moreno admitted he felt relieved that House Speaker Prospero Nograles Jr. is not leaving the party despite confirming on Monday that he was seriously considering leaving Lakas-Kampi CMD.

“It’s possible he felt slighted. Speaker nga naman siya and then ngayon ang chairmanship sa party is with one of his deputy speakers. Baka may protocol issue yan and certainly as a Speaker, he is a high ranking official of the country and certainly dapat din naman bibigyan ng role,” he said.

Moreno said Lakas-Kampi is undergoing a particularly difficult phase, which has been compounded by the upcoming elections in May. He said other political parties such as the Liberal Party could be facing the same problems as more groups join them.

“It’s not like the Nacionalista Party where only one person, Sen. Manny Villar, is making all the decisions. It’s still a democracy in Lakas-Kampi,” he said.

Moreno admitted that lack of finances is causing some of the problems in Lakas, adding that the situation would be different if the party had all the resources.

He added that the election is an opportune time for local leaders to be more discerning and to let the people make a judgment on their performance.

Moreno said Lakas-Kampi CMD standard bearer Gilbert Teodoro harbors no resentment for party members who have jumped ship. He said Teodoro particularly mentioned Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali Gonzales who resigned as Lakas-Kampi-CMD senior official to join the Liberal Party.

“I’m sure Boyet [Gonzales]’s decision must have been very, very difficult. He is also sentimental and he made his decision for family and tradition. He was actually chosen by Gibo to introduce him during the convention last year,” he said.