17mar02-‘Death’ issues test Congress majority

POSTSCRIPT / March 2, 2017 / Thursday
‘Death’ issues test Congress majority
By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

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WE ARE moving into interesting times, with the super majority coalitions controlling both chambers of the Congress taking steps to forestall their breaking up over delicate “death” issues.

The Senate has just reorganized itself as issues over extrajudicial killings related to new revelations on the so-called Davao Death Squad tended to implicate then Davao Mayor and now President Rodrigo Duterte.

All six Liberal Party senators, led by erstwhile Senate President Pro Tempore Franklin Drilon, were kicked out of the working majority, with some of them divested of their committee chairmanships. They took it in good grace, but unease persists.

The Senate ruling bloc took the drastic step after noticing that the LPs, although already absorbed into the working majority, were speaking up and voting on issues in a way that could embarrass President Duterte.

It remains to be seen if the majority’s purging of LP oppositionists can block the reopening of a Senate inquiry into the confessions of former police officer Arthur Lascañas, who has claimed to be a DDS hitman taking orders from then mayor Duterte.

In the House, there are grumblings over Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’s cracking the whip to force the approval of a controversial bill restoring the death penalty. He has threatened to kick out House leaders who vote against capital punishment.

A crackdown by Alvarez will test his leadership and use of patronage to keep the opposition in check.

We think the true opposition in the House is the so-called “Magnificent-7,” five of whom are LPs: Edcel Lagman of Albay, Teddy Baguilat of Ifugao, Raul Daza of Northern Samar, Edgar Erice of Caloocan, and Emmanuel Billones of Capiz. The others are Gary Alejano and Tom Villarin of Party-lists Magdalo and Akbayan, respectively.

Based on our count last week, around 83 of 115 LP congressmen had jumped to the super majority cobbled by Alvarez, with only 32 left to keep faith with the party bloc identified with former Speaker Sonny Belmonte.

The party advice to the LPs is reportedly for constructive collaboration — but to vote according to their conscience on the death penalty bill and other sensitive issues.

House sources said hounding them for a negative vote on capital punishment could backfire on Alvarez and possibly draw some 24 Party-List colleagues to the opposition.

Congressmen’s colors keep changing

WITH the flitting around of the political butterflies in search of nectar in the Congress, we stopped a long time ago keeping track of lawmakers’ party affiliation of current convenience.

But the interesting developments lately, indicating unrest and the possibility of another realignment, prompted us to review congressmen’s original-versus-latest party affiliations.

As of last Feb. 23, members of eight national and four local parties had occupied the 297 House seats of the current 17th Congress.

Change has indeed come to the Congress. The PDP-Laban, President Duterte’s party, came in July last year with only three congressmen, but now has at least 91, forming the core of the so-called super majority in the House.

Note the changing numbers of other groups:  Party-Lists originally with 59 representatives now have 57; Nationalist People’s Coalition originally with 41, now has 34; Liberal Party originally 115, now 32; Nacionalista Party originally 24, now 27; National Unity Party originally 23, now 20; United Nationalist Alliance originally 10, now 5; and Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino originally 2, still 2.

Four local parties (based in Manila, Bukidnon, San Jose de Monte, and Sultan Kudarat) have one representative each in the ruling House majority.

We expect the current configuration to keep shifting depending on the popularity of President Duterte, the deft disposition of patronage, and public perception on such critical issues as human rights, peace and order, jobs, and prices.

President Duterte has remained popular nationwide, however, ruling out at this point his removal via impeachment, which is a political numbers game played in stages in the two chambers of the Congress now controlled by his allies.

In fact, Baguilat and Jose Christopher Belmonte of Quezon City have announced that cooperation was the consensus reached by the party in a meeting called by LP president emeritus and former president Noynoy Aquino. Baguilat said the “dynamics in the Senate are a little different” from those in the House.

Belmonte told reporters after the caucus that their priority is to debate freely on the issues: “It’s about time the voice of the LP as a party be heard once again.”

Clark Golf Cup winners announced

THE CAPAMPANGAN in Media Inc. (CAMI) announced yesterday the winners in the 4th Clark Golf Cup that reeled out last Friday at the Mimosa Golf Course, Clark Freeport, in Pampanga.

The winners are: Lowest Net Champion, Lawrence Ngo; Lowest Gross Champion, Don Mate; Class A Champion, Fernando Delos Reyes; Class A Runner-up, Aldrin Galang; Class B Champion, Joey Arguelles; Class B Runner-up, Conrad Banal; Class C Champion, Edgardo Agustin; and Class C Runner-up, Max Fernandez.

In the Ladies’ Division, Shiela Ward emerged Champion, while Wilma Sjoberg was the Runner-up.

The Fun Holes winners were: Nearest to the Pin, Noli Fernandez; Most Accurate Drive, Lito Camo; and the Longest Drive, Aldrin Galang.

CAMI Vice President Ashley Manabat, tournament director, said the 4th Clark Golf Cup of the 12-year-old media organization was a success again, because of the enthusiastic response of the players and the unqualified support of sponsors.

(First published in The Philippine STAR of March 2, 2017)

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