House minority leader Abante steps down, joins Velasco-led majority

The power shake-up in the House continues, with Manila 6th District Representative Bienvenido "Benny" Abante Jr resigning as House minority leader to be part of the majority bloc under Speaker Lord Allan Velasco. 

Abante announced his departure from the minority bloc at the end of his turno en contra speech on the proposed 2021 budget on Friday, October 16, the same day the House passed the budget bill on final reading.

Abante said he has "full trust" in the leadership of Velasco, who successfully unseated his rival Taguig City-Pateros 1st District Representative Alan Peter Cayetano as Speaker on Monday, October 12. (READ: INSIDE STORY: Cayetano’s hubris turns Batasan into the House of Lord)

"And there is no better symbol of this trust than an expression of intent to join the majority so I could be more proactive in providing urgently-needed legislation and congressional insight," Abante said. 

The former minority leader said it was a difficult decision for him to make, as he already considers the minority bloc as his "extended family" in the House. 

"Marami po ang ating pinagdaanan, and I will always cherish the time we worked together. Tulad ng lagi kong sinabi, magkaiba man ang partido natin o ang paniniwala natin o ang idelohiya natin, there are more things that unite us, there are more advocacies we share," Abante said.

(We have experienced many things together, and I will always cherish the time we worked together. Like what I always say, we may come from different parties, have different beliefs, or follow different ideologies, but there are more things that unite us, there are more advocacies we share.)

"And there will always be one thing that will always bind us together: our desire to serve our people," he added. 

After Abante's speech, minority lawmakers inside the plenary hall cheered and clapped for their outgoing leader. 

With Abante's departure from the bloc, the 24 members of the House minority now need to elect a new leader from among themselves. 

Abante is the host pastor of the Metropolitan Bible Baptist Church and Ministries in Santa Ana, Manila. When he was elected minority leader last year, Abante was criticized for allegedly being subservient to the Cayetano-led majority. 

At the height of the Velasco-Cayetano rivalry, the minority bloc signed a manifesto backing the continued speakership of the Taguig congressman. 

But Velasco is not holding any grudges, even assuring Abante he would not be replaced if the latter chooses to stick it out with the minority bloc.

Abante had also shown in the past months that he was ready to defend members of the minority against critics. 

Abante led the signing of a manifesto that called for the resignation of Presidential Communications Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy over her "relentless" and "malicious" red-tagging of the progressive Makabayan lawmakers, who are also part of the minority bloc.

Abante told reporters on Thursday, October 15, that the minority bloc would welcome Cayetano into their fold should the ousted speaker decide to join them. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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