LP, Makabayan blocs back Benny Abante for House minority leader

MANILA, Philippines – Opposition lawmakers from the once-ruling Liberal Party (LP) and the progressive Makabayan bloc have endorsed Manila 6th District Representative Bienvenido “Benny” Abante Jr as House minority leader. 

On Monday, July 22, a  total of 28 legislators voted for Abante as Speaker, while 266 voted for Taguig City-Pateros Representative Alan Peter Cayetano. Under House rules, those who did not vote for the winning candidate for Speaker automatically becomes part of the minority bloc. 

Cayetano himself voted for Abante, while the latter voted for Cayetano, following the  House tradition of for speakership candidates to vote for their opponents.

Of the 27 other legislators who voted for Abante, 5 are from LP, while 6 are from the Makabayan bloc. The rest are a mix of district and party-list legislators from different political parties and party-list groups who all refused to join Cayetano’s “Die-hard Duterte Supermajority” bloc.

They are:

In a statement, resigned LP secretary-general Belmonte said their bloc came together to “uphold the checks and balances of power” in the legislative branch. 

“A genuine Minority speaks truth to power in safeguarding the country and people it serves. As such we agree to support Rep. Bienvenido ‘Benny’ Mirando Abante Jr of the 6th District of Manila from the Asenso Manileño as our Minority Leader,” said Belmonte.

He described Abante as "a leader who can be collegial during debates in the crafting of laws."

"As his repeated election to the House of Representatives shows his constituents’ trust and confidence in him, we echo this trust and confidence that he will have the interest of the Philippines and all Filipinos,” Belmonte added.

Abante, a pastor, previously served as Manila congressman in 2004. He also became chairperson of the committee on public information. 

Lagman hits Abante

Only Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman cast a “no” vote, which means he now belonged to the independent minority bloc.

Unlike other LP congressmen in the minority bloc, Lagman would have no voting powers in House committees and his district will not be a priority in the budgeting process.

But Lagman was willing to take on this gamble to remain with the “independent opposition.” He then slammed Abante, whom he accused of having the blessing of the majority bloc to gun for the minority leadership.

“Although the dogma is that there should be no idolatrous adherence to precedents, the unfortunate fact is that precedents die hard, including those which are  blatant aberrations like the majority choosing the Minority Leader,” said Lagman.

“What happened in the 16th and 17th Congressses where the choice of a Minority Leader was decided by the ascendant majority is perpetuated in the 18th Congress, where the installation of a Minority Leader has been brokered and approved by the supermajority coalition,” he added. 

The remaining 12 LP legislators in the House voted Cayetano for Speaker making them part of the majority bloc. (READ: 'LP will remain steadfast to principles' even if in House majority – Belmonte

A divided LP in the lower chamber is nothing new, as LP lawmakers were part of the majority bloc at the start of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term in the17th Congress. 

LP then tried but failed to lay claim over the House minority bloc when Davao del Norte 1st District Representative Pantaleon Alvarez was ousted as Speaker and replaced by ex-Pampanga 2nd District Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.