'I'm sure Alvarez will be next Speaker' – Belmonte
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr seemed to have conceded the race for the leadership of the incoming Congress to newly-elected Davao del Norte Representative Pantaleon Alvarez.
Belmonte, the longtime Speaker, said on Friday, May 20, that most of his congressmen party mates at the Liberal Party would like to join the majority, which is led by President-elect Rodrigo Duterte's Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban).
Duterte has endorsed Alvarez. (READ: Next Speaker? Pantaleon Alvarez and the ghost of NAIA-3)
"I'm sure he will be the next Speaker," Belmonte said in a text message, confirming that he met with Alvarez on Thursday evening, May 20. "For the speakership, he has or will soon have the numbers."
Belmonte said he is hopeful that Alvarez, an old friend from past Congresses, "would stand up for Congress and protect its constitutional mandate."
Alvarez said earlier on Friday that "no less than 50" LP lawmakers were shifting their allegiance to PDP-Laban. He also claimed that there were at least 180 congressmen backing his bid for speakership.
Visayan bloc support
At least 30 congressmen from the so-called "Visayan Bloc" in the House pledged to support the speakership bid of Alvarez.
The group said in a press statement that Visayan Bloc lead convener, reelected Negros Occidental Representative Alfredo Benitez, led at least 30 congressmen, many from the LP, in signing a manifesto of "cooperation and support" for Duterte and Alvarez.
The manifesto was signed during a meeting between the group and Alvarez on Wednesday night. Benitez reportedly organized the meeting.
Benitez, former LP chair in Negros Occidental, supported presidential candidate Grace Poe who ranked third in the race; and her running mate, Senator Francis Escudero, who placed 4th.
"We, the members of the Visayan Bloc, extend our cooperation and support to the incoming Duterte administration in its pursuit for the development and enactment of pro-people and developmental policies and programs for our country," the manifesto said.
"The Bloc also manifests its support to the speakership bid of Congressman Pantaleon Alvarez for the 17th Congress," it added.
Iloilo City Representative Jerry Trenas, president of the Visayan Bloc which has 45 members, is among the top LP lawmakers to defect to the Alvarez camp.
Belmonte had said that while he would run for speaker, he would not keep LP members from joining the new majority in the 17th Congress.
Other LP congressmen who signed the manifesto are Lucy Torres Gomez (4th District, Leyte), Arthur Defensor Jr (3rd District, Iloilo), Rene Relampagos (First District, Bohol), Cesar Sarmiento (Catanduanes), Ben Evardone (Eastern Samar), Paolo Javier (Antique), Gerard Gullas (First District, Cebu), Richard Garin (First District, Iloilo).
Among the House newbies backing Alvarez are Representatives Lucille Nava (Guimaras), Henry Ong (2nd District, Leyte), Raul Boboy Tupas (5th District, Iloilo), Melecio Yap (1st District, Negros Occidental), Manuel Sagarbarris (2nd District, Negros Occidental), Greg Gasataya (Bacolod City); and Arnie Teves (3rd, Negros Oriental).
AMBIS-OWA party list Representative Sharon Garin, sister in-law of Health Secretary Jannette Garin, is the lone party-list representative solon to sign the manifesto.
The Nationalist People's Coalition (NPC) has forged an alliance with PDP-Laban on Thursday morning, promising to support Alvarez. NPC has won more than 50 seats in the election.
Two other big political parties, the Nacionalista Party and Lakas-CMD, have also sealed a coalition with Duterte's party. – Rappler.com