MANILA, Philippines – They once lorded over Congress as leaders of a coalition that counted independents and other parties in its fold. But on Sunday, July 24, some 20 members of the Liberal Party (LP) met inside a posh Mandaluyong hotel to ink an "agreement of support" with the now-ruling PDP-Laban.
The deal formalized the LP's entry into the so-called "supermajority" in the House of Representatives.
Present during the signing were outgoing House Speaker and LP vice chairman Quezon City Representative Feliciano Belmonte Jr, incoming House Speaker and PDP-Laban secretary general Davao del Norte Representative Pantaleon Alvarez, and incoming Senate President and PDP-Laban president Senator Aquilino Pimentel III.
"I'm glad that we finally have an agreement between the LP and the PDP-Laban because as someone who's been with PDP-Laban since the very start, I have fond memories of our collaboration in 1991. Masaya po iyon, nagsama ang dalawang partidong walang pera (It was fun, two parties without money coalesced)... so we finished the race out of principle so it's good that we signed an agreement because I believe that these are two parties with principles and ideologies," said Pimentel, who is expected to formally assume the Senate's top post on Monday, July 25.
It took months before the former ruling party eventually made a decision on which side it would be on for the incoming 17th Congress. It was initially announced that talks had broken down and that the party would join the minority instead, but days later the tides apparently turned.
"There is no question whatsoever that the Filipino people [have] entrusted [their] future for the next 6 years into the hands of President [Rodrigo] Duterte. A person who coming virtually from nowhere has amassed the biggest majority, and I think that we have to honor that. We have to respect the decision of the people that the mandate is his," said Belmonte, who led negotiations between the LP and PDP-Laban.
Part of the "agreement of support" inked between the two parties read:
"We express full support for [Duterte's] plans as we convey our willingness to contructively engage his administration in crafting a populist agenda that will bring peace, progress, and prosperity to the whole country.
"We commit our organization in supporting the legislative agenda of President Rodrigo Duterte, particularly the measures that need to be urgently acted upon so there will bear the authority and appropriations from Congress."
Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler
Belmonte said that even before the 16th Congress adjourned, it was clear that most of the LP wanted to join the majority, a decision then-president Benigno Aquino III was well aware of. Aquino is still the party's chairman but is – for now – not playing an active role in the party's decisions, said Belmonte.
But not all members of the LP will be joining the majority. Some of the 35 or so left in the party will be part of the minority. Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat, for instance, tweeted on Sunday that he would still run for the speakership even if "we won't win."
"We won't even make it as minority floor [leader]. But doing what's right," said Baguilat, a stalwart of the party.
Belmonte was initially set to vie for the speakership and lose in order to be the minority floor leader, but the Quezon City representative had a change of heart.
The LP vice chairman admitted there are LP members who will not be joining the ruling coalition. These members, he said, may eventually become "independents."
Amid criticism of the once-ruling party, Belmonte insisted that one does not need to be an oppositionist to be a fiscalizer.
"Even in our own ranks, we are going to, in a brotherly way, we also want to see to it that everything is done right so that posterity will judge him (Duterte) very well. Tayo ay tumulong sa pagtutupad ng kanyang mga panaginip para sa ating bansa (We will help him achieve his dreams for the country)," he added. – Rappler.com