LP plots House coup, backs Abaya as Speaker

Published by rudy Date posted on May 24, 2011

BELMONTE SHRUGS OFF OUSTER BID

A coup in the House of Representatives is in the works and a group led by Liberal Party (LP) members in the chamber will back Cavite Rep. Joseph Emil Abaya to replace Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte.

Abaya, however, categorically denied he is involved in the Belmonte ouster plot and that he is out to grab the Speakership.

This even as a Tribune source revealed that a group of lawmakers identified with a faction within the Liberal Party (LP) is now recruiting support to have Belmonte replaced as Speaker of the 15th Congress.

In a text message, Abaya said that in no event would he even think of wrestling the Speakership with Belmonte.

“No way. That’s just trying to drive a wedge,” Abaya said. “I won’t even dare think about such scenario.”

Other than attend to the idea of grabbing the Speakership, Abaya said he has “more productive things to do.”

Abaya, however, came short of categorically denying the existence of such plot to have Belmonte replaced.

Belmonte, on the other hand, shrugged off the ouster plot against him, saying the move, if there is any, was beyond the scope of his radar.

“I’ve read the Tribune story but I cannot sense yet the ouster plot (against me),” Belmonte said during an interview.

As one of the leaders of the Liberal Party, Belmonte said he enjoys the opportunity of talking with other party leaders, including losing party vice presidential bet, Mar Roxas, who a Tribune source claimed was behind the ouster plot against the Speaker.

“From time to time, we talk with him,” Belmonte said apparently referring to Roxas.

With regard to the delay in the release of the priority development assistance fund (PDAF) which the Tribune source claims Roxas is using as leverage for House members to gain their support, Belmonte said that as of press time, almost 60 percent of the lawmakers have already received half of the pork.

“Everyone will receive their PDAF, even those coming from the opposition. Medyo nauna lang ang mga nasa majority,” said Belmonte insinuating the simple issue of the delay of the release of PDAF cannot be used to oust him.

“We feel confident with our leadership in the House as well as with my relationship with the President and also with the Senate,” said Belmonte.

“I hope you are wrong,” the Speaker told this reporter.

Yesterday, the Tribune, quoting a source, ran a story detailing of coup plot against the Speaker allegedly hatched by Roxas.

According to the source, Belmonte is to be removed from office before President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino delivers his state of the nation address on July 25.

The plot was allegedly conceived as part of Roxas’ retribution against Belmonte after the former lost heavily in Quezon City for the vice presidential race in the May 2010 elections against Binay.

Belmonte is said to be closed to the Samar Group within the Aquino camp which had supported the Aquino-Binay tandem.

Allegedly, Roxas has persuaded Budget Secretary Butch Abad and Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, both identified with Roxas’ Balay Group, to withhold the release of the priority development assistance fund (PDAF) of the lawmakers in an attempt to weaken Belmonte’s leadership and rally their support in having the Speaker replaced.

Accordingly, the plot was executed during the time of the impeachment case against then Chief Ombudsman Ma. Merceditas “Merci” Gutierrez, when a text message supposedly attributed to Abaya was circulated among House members threatening them that their PDAF would be withheld if they vote against the impeachment. An additional P20 million in pork, on the other hand, awaits those who would vote in the affirmative.

This was after Belmonte reportedly refused to “issue a marching order” for members of the majority bloc in the House to vote for the Merci impeachment.

However, Belmonte might have insinuated he is aware of the ouster move against him when he declared he knew who “tipped” this reporter on the plot to remove him.

“And I have a good guess on who gave you that tip,” Belmonte told this reporter.

However, a Tribune source averred that the recruitment process for Belmonte’s ouster had already commenced with a ranking member of the House allegedly talking to other lawmakers in enjoining their support to have Belmonte replaced.

According to the source, the ranking member of the House whom he identified as one of those responsible in the handling of the Merci impeachment case, has been making rounds among House members, particularly those who have yet to receive their PDAF, to support the move to oust Belmonte.

“He (the ranking House member) has started talking to us asking us to support the Oust Belmonte move saying they have already identified a better replacement for him (Belmonte),” said the source. “He further assured us that once Belmonte is removed, we would start receiving our PDAF on time.”

The source however said he was not sure whether the Speaker ouster plotters would be able to muster the required number as Belmonte is highly regarded by everyone, including the opposition, to lead the House.

“I don’t think they will succeed,” said the source.

Malacañang yesterday branded as ridiculous the allegations that Liberal Party (LP) president and incoming Presidential Chief of Staff Manuel Roxas II is targeting the ouster of House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr.

According to presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, Roxas and Belmonte “have remained good friends” over the years thereby implying that it’s impossible for the soon-to-be-appointed chief of staff to devise such a sinister plan.

Lacierda, in a phone interview, belied the claims of a lawmaker that reportedly belongs to the House majority bloc who was being quoted in the story bannered by the Tribune in its Monday edition, disclosing the alleged plan of Roxas to remove Belmonte from his post at the House of Representatives.

The said lawmaker asserted that Roxas was behind the mysterious delays in the release of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of some members at the House of Representatives with Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima lending him a hand.

Deferring the scheduled releases of PDAF for each congressman was allegedly geared toward igniting fresh conflicts among House lawmakers of whatever political alignment in order to project Belmonte as a ‘weak leader’ which might eventually result to gathering support for his ouster.

Lacierda strongly denied this accusation saying that the Aquino administration has no deliberate intention to withhold the PDAF or commonly known as pork barrel by the lawmakers concerned because such was not the policy being exercised by the government.

“We have not heard of any complaints. We have already committed to the congressmen that the PDAF will be given to all the congressmen. That’s the policy of this administration—you will not be prejudiced on account of [your political affiliation],” Lacierda said.

As far as Lacierda is concerned, all the congressmen have already been given P70-million pork barrel to fund projects for their respective districts. He said if there is anyone who has not yet received their share of PDAF, Abad would surely have an explanation.

But Lacierda stressed that no congressman shall be left empty-handed insofar as the distribution of PDAF is concerned. “They [Department of Budget and Management] are going to distribute. There is no policy to withhold it from opposition,” he said.

Lacierda, moreover, expressed awareness over the lingering issues of political factions inside President Aquino’s circle of allies which, he said, are always being brought to the surface especially now that Roxas is about to assume position as Presidential Chief of Staff this June.

Roxas is supposedly the top honcho in the ‘Balay’ faction that supported his losing vice presidential bid in tandem with Aquino in the last 2010 national elections whereas Belmonte is said to be associated with the so-called ‘Samar’ group.

The Samar faction was believed to be instrumental in upsetting Roxas’ candidacy by clandestinely supporting the candidacy of then Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay who ran alongside former President Joseph Estrada.

Binay eventually won the vice presidential seat prompting Roxas to file an electoral protest later on and settling for the Cabinet position which Aquino is expected to give him after serving the mandatory one-year appointment ban for losing candidates in the last elections.

Malacañang has time and again claimed that Roxas’ entry would not further complicate matters in government whose operations are already being hampered by the seemingly inexorable power struggles inside Aquino’s factionalized Cabinet. –Aytch S. de la Cruz, Charlie V. Manalo, Daily Tribune

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