MANILA – Some members of the Liberal Party started to shift loyalty and had pledge full support to Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon “Bebot” Alvarez, the personal choice of presumptive President Rodrigo Duterte to be the speaker of the 17th Congress.
With this, incumbent Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr’s. bid for his third and final term suffers a major blow.
Most of the LP who had pledge support to Alvarez are members of the formidable Visayan Bloc leader Negros Occidental Rep. Alfredo “Albee” Benitez.
Benitez led at least 30 congressmen, many of them LP colleagues of Belmonte, signed a manifesto that also declared “cooperation and support” to the Duterte administration.
Benitez also revealed that Belmonte was aware of the exodus while some of them were just waiting for the right time to shift loyalty for Alvarez.
Initially, at least 30 re-elected and newly-elected congressmen representing Visayan-speaking congressional districts signed a manifesto supporting Duterte and Alvarez, the presumptive president’s anointed for House speaker.
“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 stated.
The Bloc also manifests its support to the speakership bid of Congressman Pantaleon Alvarez for the 17th Congress,” it added.
Iloilo City Rep. Jerry Trenas, president of the organization composed of at least 45 members, is among the top LP lawmakers to defect to the Alvarez camp.
Other prominent LP solons who signed the manifesto are: Reps. Lucy Torres Gomez (Fourth District, Leyte); Arthur Defensor Jr. (Third District, Iloilo); Rene Relampagos (First District, Bohol); Cesar V. Sarmiento (Lone District, Catanduanes); Ben Evardone (Lone District, Eastern Samar); Paolo Javier (Lone District, Antique); Gerard Gullas (First District, Cebu) and Richard Garin (First District, Iloilo).
Neophytes also expressed their support for Alvarez. Among them: Reps. Lucille Nava (Lone District, Guimaras); Henry Ong (Second District, Leyte); Raul Boboy Tupas (Fifth District, Iloilo); Melecio Yap (First District, Negros Occidental); Manuel Sagarbarria (Second District, Negros Occidental); Greg Gasataya (Lone District, Bacolod City); and Arnie Teves (Third District, Negros Oriental).,
Incumbent Rep. Sharon Garin, sister in-law of Health Secretary Jannette Garin, is the lone party-list solon to sign the manifesto.
But 10 more partylist congressmen have already aired their intention to sign the statement of support for Duterte and Alvarez, having been signatories of a similar document prepared by the Partylist Coalition, headed by Ako Bicol Rep. Rodel Batocabe.
Outgoing Representatives Evelio Leonardia and Pryde Henry Teves, newly-elected mayors of Bacolod City and Bayawan City, also signed the Visayan Bloc manifesto.
The manifesto was signed during a meeting between the Bloc and Alvarez held Wednesday night at Midas Hotel. Benitez, chairman of the House Committee on Housing and Urban Development, reportedly organized the meeting.
He touted as a speakership candidate, resigned from LP at the start of the recent national campaign to join the presidential bid of Senator Grace Poe. He won a lopsided victory over his congressional rivals for his final term as congressman.
By signing the manifesto, the senior lawmaker explicitly withdrew any intention to run for speaker, leaving Belmonte and Alvarez to contend for the top House post.