MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Manila 6th District Representative Bienvenido “Benny” Abante Jr has been elected House Minority Leader of the 18th Congress.
Twenty-three of the 27 legislators belonging to the minority bloc unanimously picked Abante as their leader in a meeting on Tuesday, July 23, a day after the House elected Taguig City-Pateros Representative Alan Peter Cayetano as Speaker.
The minority bloc is a mix of legislators from the once-ruling Liberal Party (LP), Nacionalista Party (NP), the party-list coalition, the progressive Makabayan bloc, and even President Rodrigo Duterte's Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban).
AKO Bicol Representative Alfredo Garbin Jr said representatives of the major blocs interested to join the minority, met over the weekend.
The representatives are Garbin for the party-list coalition, Quezon City 6th District Representative Jose Christopher Belmonte for LP, Iloilo 1st District Representative Janette Garin for NP, Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate for Makabayan, and Cavite 3rd District Representative Alex Advincula for PDP-Laban. Abante was already present during these meetings.
Garbin explained that the lawmakers decided Abante, a pastor who once served as Manila congressman in 2004, was their best option for minority leader. They deemed Abante as the most "balanced" when it comes to issues that members of the minority bloc were strongly advocating for.
"So we decided, 'Sino ba puwede namin [na leader]?' Kasi iba-ibang agenda. Iba naman 'yong agenda ng kaliwa, iba naman 'yong agenda ng LP. The most balanced na napag-usapan namin is Benny Abante," said Garbin.
(So we had to decide, 'Who can be our leader?' Because we all have different agenda. The agenda of the Left is different from the agenda of the LP. The most balanced person among us is Benny Abante.)
Abante is the host pastor of the Metropolitan Bible Baptist Church and Ministries in Santa Ana, Manila.
His minority leadership was already criticized by Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman of LP, who had said that Abante was chosen as for the position upon the approval of the majority bloc, which was not supposed to have any say on the affairs of the minority coalition.
Abante joined the speakership race on Monday, and got 28 votes against Cayetano’s 266. Cayetano himself voted for Abante, while the latter voted for Cayetano, following the House tradition for speakership candidates to vote for their opponents.
Under House rules, those who did not vote for the winning candidate for Speaker automatically becomes part of the minority bloc. All minority lawmakers are then mandated to elect the minority leader from among themselves. – Rappler.com