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Speaker race heats up

Zamora joins fray, takes on Belmonte, Romualdez House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. on Tuesday said it will be a three-way fight for the post of Speaker in the 16th Congress, setting up a hotly contested race between the two losing candidates for the minority leadership. Belmonte, a member of the ruling Liberal Party, will fight to retain his post, indentifying his potential opponents as House Deputy Minority Leader and Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and San Juan City Rep. Ronaldo Zamora. Being Deputy Minority Leader, Romualdez was a shoo-in to take over from House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez, whose term ends on June 30. But Romualdez, Lakas-CMD president, was being egged by his peers to contest the speakership so as to “bring back the independence, integrity and checks and balances” in the House, particularly since the administration is poised to wrest control of the Senate. “It’s hard to say how the 16th Congress will look like,” Belmonte said. “Two established personalities are vying for it, Martin (Romualdez) and Ronnie (Zamora),” he said. Like himself, Belmonte said, Romualdez and Zamora were already starting to convince their colleagues to back their speakership bid. “I’m sure they have friends who would rather be in the majority but might get enticed by either. However, the followers of the loser might not necessarily join the winning minority leader,” Belmonte said. In the speakership race, the one who garners the majority votes wins. The one who gets the second largest number of votes automatically becomes the minority leader. Those who voted for the losers also automatically become members of the minority bloc but may choose to join the majority by informing the plenary. The two contenders for the speakership would now make sure they obtained the second highest votes to become the minority leader. Zamora’s entry to the speakership race would result in the break-up of the majority coalition, observers said. Zamora, who ran under the Partido Magdiwang, would be joining the Nacionalista Party, headed by Senator Manuel Villar. The NP, which won 20 seats in the House in the recent polls, was a member of the majority coalition. It has fielded three senatorial candidates under the banner of the President’s Team Pnoy. All three – Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes IV and former Las Piñas Rep. Cynthia Villar – won. Zamora’s entry would also mean minus 20 votes for Belmonte should the NP vote as a bloc on July 22, the opening of the 16th Congress, and when President Benigno Aquino III will hold his 4th State-Of-The-Nation Address. House sources said the new development means the LP must work harder to retain the numbers for Belmonte. Belmonte himself was not complacent and started calling his colleagues. He has organized the meeting of LP winners last Monday in the Palace with the President, who endorsed Belmonte as still the LP’s candidate for the speakership. The LP won 110 seats in the now 294-member House, which includes the 58 seats for party-list groups and 236 legislative districts. Romualdez’s Lakas-CMD won 15 seats but he was also counting on his friends with the 24-member Nationalist Unity Party, whose members were former affiliated with Lakas-Kampi that broke away to form the NUP to enable them to join the majority coalition. Most of the members of the LP, including Belmonte, were former stalwarts of Lakas. Suarez said he had met with Zamora to discuss the possibility of joining forces with Romualdez to form the minority bloc. Zamora, however, declined as he wanted to take a shot at the speakership. “Ronnie said he’s going for it (speakership). They must have the numbers, too,” Suarez said. One advantage of two congressmen going against Belmonte is a bigger minority at the end of the day, Suarez said. “If you combine the two (NP and Lakas), then you get a bigger number,” he said. Belmonte, however, said not all supporters of Zamora and Romualdez, or even of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance, would join the minority bloc after the speakership election. Eastern Samar Rep.-elect Ben Evardone, an LP official, said the lack of a unified opposition would strengthen the administration coalition in the House. He said there are cracks within the Lakas and UNA with Lakas bloc led by Camarines Sur Rep.-elect Rolando Andaya Jr. deciding to remain with the majority coalition. This early, Evardone said, newly proclaimed Cebu Rep.-elect Gwendolyn Garcia of UNA has already pledged to support Belmonte despite the “harassment done to her by the LP during the election campaign.” Garcia was ordered suspended allegedly for graft charges with Vice Governor Agnes Magpale of the LP taking over her office. Garcia, for months, chose to lock herself in in her office. At least three of the eight UNA members are also expected to remain with the majority, including Garcia. The two others are Abigail Binay and Monique Lagdameo, both Makati representatives, Evardone said. On Wednesday, June 5, the House will convene to pass bills pending on third and final reading, and to give recognition to its graduating members before its sine die adjournment. House sources said horse trading will begin today when the congressmen would meet for the last time.  
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