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Fight for Speakership could bring Arroyo down to earth

May 21, 2010 1:41pm

(UPDATED 5:53 P.M.) At first blush, the incoming 15th Congress will still be dominated by allies of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who has long been rumored to have a moist eye on the Speakership of the House of Representatives once she departs Malacañang.

But an alliance glued together by the resources and power of the presidency may crumble once Arroyo becomes just one of many legislators.

“(Arroyo) simply has nothing compared to the president to entice or pressure congressmen to her own coalition. At the same time, she is also a 'kiss of death' to allies in terms of relations to the Executive. She'll get the rejects," said political analyst Ramon Caspile of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform (IPER).

But the coalition-building, party shifting, and horse trading have barely begun.

According to a GMANews.TV analysis of fresh election data, administration party Lakas-Kampi-CMD may win as many as 109 out of the 229 congressional seats currently up for grabs in the 15th Congress. Mrs. Arroyo chairs the Lakas party. But party loyalties are only as strong as party leaders, and Arroyo will soon experience a significant drop in her political capital.

Meanwhile, electoral results so far show that at least 43 seats may go to the Liberal Party and the LP-allied Laban Para sa Kapayapaan, Katarungan, at Kaunlaran (KKK) and Hugpong sa Tawong Lungsod. By its own count, the LP expects to secure as many as 46 seats. President-apparent Noynoy Aquino is the Liberal Party's primary recruitment magnet.

The graphic above illustrates the tenuous alliances in Congress that seem to make Arroyo a shoo-in to become Speaker of the House. If history is any guide, and the new president demonstrates a modicum of political skills, the preliminary House numbers will soon change in Aquino's favor, as he uses the power of his office to form legislative coalitions to push his agenda.

The remaining 77 seats in the House will be divided among independent candidates, the Nationalist People's Coalition, the Nacionalista Party, Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino, and smaller parties, which will all feel the seductive appeal of a popular new head of government who won by a landslide.

The figures reflect the number of candidates per party that are leading the congressional races in their respective districts, based on the partial, unofficial GMA tally last May 16. Click the image to see the full list of leading congressional candidates per party.

The above numbers are based on an analysis of the partial, unofficial GMA tally of election results as of May 16. GMANews.TV identified the 229 candidates leading the congressional races in their respective districts. The parties indicated in the candidates' certificates of candidacy were used to predict the likely composition of the 15th Congress.

However, a number of candidates switched parties during the campaign period-- including former Lakas member Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali Gonzales, II and formerly independent Parañaque Rep. Rolio Golez who both switched to LP. Manny Pacquiao was also sworn in as a new member of the Nacionalista Party last December. GMANews.TV is still determining which other candidates have left the parties they were with when they formally signaled their intent to run.

The composition of the newly-elected House will have a major impact on the fight for the House Speakership in the next congress. Lakas-Kampi-CMD is expected to field Mrs. Arroyo as their candidate. The Liberal Party has officially elected incoming Quezon City Rep. Sonny Belmonte as their bet.

To win the Speakership, either bet must win the support of the majority of House members. The previous Congress has 269 members, including party-list representatives. It remains to be seen exactly how many seats will make up the 15th Congress, and with which blocs the new party-list representatives will ally.

Several of Arroyo's partymates have denied that Mrs. Arroyo is interested in the Speakership. Yesterday, Lakas member and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said that Mrs. Arroyo does not have the numbers to get herself elected as head of the House of Representatives. However, this contradicted an earlier statement by Presidential political adviser Prospero Pichay last Tuesday that Lakas can still field a winning bet for the Speakership even if Mrs. Arroyo declines nomination.

VIDEO: Lakas has numbers to elect House speaker, party official says

LP to put up a fight

While Lakas is currently the largest bloc, IPER's Caspile predicts an exodus of Lakas stalwarts to the LP when Congress opens in June.

"The Liberal Party is in the most favorable position to form the coalition because of its proximity to the Noynoy Aquino presidency and the strength of its principal candidate, former Speaker Belmonte. If it plays its cards right, it can very well secure the Speakership," adds Casiple.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman of Lakas-Kampi has predicted that as many as 10 to 15 percent of Lakas congressman may end up switching sides.

However, Professor Bobby Tuazon of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (Cenpeg) believes that forming the ruling coalition will be an "uphill battle" for the LP.

"(Aquino) should be able to form his own rainbow coalition in Congress to push his own bills and projects. He should realize, however, that this coalition will be firm or shaky depending on how well he executes a balancing act - pushing his pet legislation through a gauntlet defined by vested political interests," Tuazon explains.

VIDEO: LP to field incoming QC Rep. Belmonte for House Speakership

Arroyo's leverage to cut a deal with Aquino

Mrs. Arroyo has benefitted in the past from having many allies in the House of Representatives.

The outgoing president managed to survive yearly impeachment complaints from 2005 to 2008 because of support from congressional allies. In 2008, House Speaker Jose de Venecia, Jr. was ousted from the speakership allegedly by Arroyo allies after his son played a key role in the investigation of the NBN-ZTE deal.

According to Tuazon, the Lakas-heavy composition of the incoming congress may continue to benefit Arroyo while making life difficult for incoming President Aquino.

"Arroyo allies in Congress apparently still have the votes to question the election results for the presidency and in an extreme case, may stall the official proclamation of the winning candidate. This leverage may be used by Arroyo to cut a deal with the winning presidential candidate including, possibly, to contain any move to prosecute Arroyo for yet unsolved allegations of election fraud and other constitutional violations," he explains.

"Even with Noynoy Aquino sitting as President and his party being effectively a minority party, he faces an uncooperative or highly polarized lower House. Pragmatism dictates he may be forced to use the politics of patronage - the politics of pork barrel - in the hope of increasing his own clout in Congress. We're simply looking at a Congress more divided and fractious than before."
--with reporting by Pia Faustino, Wayne Manuel, Jun Verzola, Jam Sisante, and Sophia Dedace. Graphics by Paolo Ferrer and Analyn Perez. HS/GMANews.TV
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