MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The National Unity Party (NUP) is now a force to be reckoned with in the House of Representatives after 4 more legislators – two of them Deputy Speakers – bolted the ruling party and joined NUP.
On Wednesday, February 5, the following lawmakers took their oath as members of the second biggest bloc in the House, increasing the NUP's numbers to 61 from last year’s 57:
Apart from Gonzales and Fernandez, Eriguel is also a House leader as she chairs the committee on social services.
This now means the power of the Duterte administration’s Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) in the House is further weakened, as the number of its district representatives is down to 66.
NUP, which started the 18th Congress with just 25 members, began amassing influence in the House as early as August 2019, after 19 district lawmakers jumped ship to the party and 12 party-list groups signed a coalition agreement with it.
No less than the president's son and Davao City 1st District Representative Paolo Duterte is an adopted member of the NUP, which means he was able to join the national party without having to leave his local party Hugpong sa Tawong Lungsod.
With more members in its arsenal, NUP now has the muscle to influence crucial votes and decisions in the House.
Gonzales in particular is a prized recruit as he is part of the inner circle of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, who is allied with the Nacionalista Party.
Gonzales is also an expert in whipping votes, having been elected as Majority Leader in the previous 11th, 12th, 15th, and 16th Congresses.
The party is also emerging to be a formidable vehicle for its members who may seek to run in the 2022 national elections.
"I've seen political parties come and go... Pero over the years, nakita ko na nananatili sila na matibay (But over the years, I've seen how they remained strong) regardless of the outcome of any presidential campaign," Gonzales told reporters.
Both Fernandez and Eriguel also called NUP "the party to reckon with."
"On my part, I also believe that this is the party to reckon with, the party of the future, and the party that I believe in," Eriguel said.
Influence on term-sharing?
NUP chairperson and veteran political strategist Ronaldo “Ronnie” Puno previously credited the party’s rise to power to their support for the successful speakership bid of Taguig City-Pateros 1st District Representative Cayetano.
The party's increased numbers in the House may also influence whether the term-sharing deal between Cayetano and Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Velasco of PDP-Laban would still push through.
But NUP president Elpidio Barzaga Jr said on Wednesday that is "too premature" to discuss this, as he said party members would rather focus on their legislative work for now.
This is just the latest exodus suffered by PDP-Laban, a once formidable bloc in the House that had to make do with dividing the spoils from the heated speakership race of the 18th Congress.
Roughly a year ago, PDP-Laban members had accused their party leaders of leaving them out in the cold during the negotiations for key House posts after President Rodrigo Duterte decided to endorse the term-sharing deal between Cayetano and Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Velasco of the ruling party.
Duterte, who is PDP-Laban president, said Cayetano will be Speaker for the first 15 months, while Velasco will lead the House in the 21 months after that.
But Cayetano and his allies are already floating the possibility of him serving the full 3-year term as Speaker, as his charm offensive in the House forces Velasco to recede to the background.
PDP-Laban stalwart and Deputy Speaker Johnny Pimentel said they "respect" the decision of their former allies to join NUP.
He then said this is nothing new because Filipino politicians tend to jump from one party to another.
"This is not a cause for alarm. This is how Philippine politics work. It has a propensity for turncoatism to gain favors from whoever is in power. I wish them luck," Pimentel said in a text message. – Rappler.com