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New blood: Liberal Party welcomes 'non-politicians' into fold

MANILA, Philippines – The Liberal Party (LP) on Tuesday, November 7, welcomed more than 100 "non-politician" new members, following its promise to "rebrand" a party that's been vilified by members of the Duterte administration and its supporters.

The LP, which ruled Philippine politics during the Aquino administration, announced the oath taking of "new members who come mostly from the ranks of the academe, youth, professionals, and non-government organizations."

Party chairperson Vice President Leni Robredo administered the oath.

"We know that often, people go with the flow, but you go against the flow," said Robredo in a speech during the oath taking, according to a press release from the LP.

"We salute you because you are not afraid to be called yellow, because you know that these are the times that almost no one wants to join the party because we are always attacked and made to look bad in the eyes of the public. But you believe and trust that this is the party with firm principles," added Robredo, a relative neophyte in Philippine politics.

The party has been regrouping and "rebranding" since it fell from power after the 2016 elections. President Rodrigo Duterte won with a margin of more than 6 million votes against second-placer Manuel Roxas II, the LP's standard-bearer. Robredo was Roxas' running mate.

During the Aquino administration, the LP counted most lawmakers and local politicians as members and allies. Their numbers quickly dwindled in the aftermath of the elections, with many jumping ship to the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), which Duterte belongs to.

PDP-Laban now leads the majority in the Senate and a "supermajority" in the House of Representatives. Many local politicians who were once members or allies of the LP have also moved to the now-ruling PDP-Laban.

"This so-called Dutertism is a form of leadership that does not adhere to the limits of power, does not respect institutions, does not regard or follow processes, including the rights and freedoms in the Constitution, which is disregarded under this leadership," said lawyer Raffy Aquino, representing the new batch of LP members.

He added that now is the "best time to restore and strengthen the Liberal Party because the current leadership is against liberalism and democracy."

While the LP has criticized Duterte and his policies, some of its members belong to the PDP-Laban-led House majority.

Robredo herself was once a member of the Duterte Cabinet, but resigned in December 2016 after she was told to stop attending all Cabinet meetings.

LP members and allies initially belonged to the majority bloc in the Senate, but bolted after they were removed as chairpersons of key committees and after the arrest of Senator Leila de Lima, justice secretary during the Aquino administration.

The LP senators, including party president Francis Pangilinan, now belong to the Senate minority. Under Pangilinan's leadership, the LP has made it a goal to go back to the "grassroots" and become a "genuine people's party." – Rappler.com