By Mark Jayson Cayabyab and Gianfranco Geronimo
For a party that ran its presidential campaign this year on “change,” the Liberal Party has turned to an old-timer for the top post in the House of Representatives.
This year, LP is fielding Quezon City 4th district representative-elect Feliciano “Sonny” R. Belmonte, Jr., as its candidate for House Speaker.
However, Belmonte, 73, was not always an LP member. Last year Belmonte, who was then a Lakas-KAMPI-CMD stalwart, defected to LP to support the candidacy of Sen. Benigno Aquino III.LP candidates won the mayoral and vice mayoral positions, as well as the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th district House seats. His daughter Joy Belmonte was elected city vice-mayor.
Belmonte served three consecutive terms as representative of the fourth district of Quezon City from 1992 to 2001. During his first two terms in the House, he was chosen as the vice chairperson of the powerful Committee on Appropriations.
He was elected House Speaker in 2001 after Edsa Dos, winning the votes of pro-Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo solons and replacing Camarines Sur Rep. Arnulfo Fuentebella of the NPC. He served from January to July of that year.
Belmonte was then elected Mayor in May 2001, defeating the late actor Rudy Fernandez. In 2003, Belmonte was recognized as the Most Outstanding City Mayor in the Local Government Leadership Awards.
During Belmonte’s administration, Quezon City ranked 7th Asian City of the Future 2007 according to the London Financial Times. The next year, Tholons Inc. placed the city as the 21st emerging global outsourcing city in the world. It soon became the country’s richest city, a title it holds to date.
Last May Belmonte ran for his old congressional seat being vacated by 4th district Rep. Nanette Castel0-Daza and won with over 78% of the vote.
While Belmonte boasts of confidence in winning the Speakership, he only has the support of 44 of 122 LP congressional candidates in Congress – a disadvantage in the battle for political allies, and thus technically reducing its mathematical chances.
To gain more support for Belmonte, the Liberal Party has formed the Conscience and Reform (CORE) coalition to undermine the alleged bid for Speaker of outgoing President Arroyo, or any Lakas nominee for that matter. The coalition would be initially composed of 44 members o fLP, and members from Lakas, NP, and NPC.
More than 30 Lakas members and party-list representatives have already reportedly expressed their support for Belmonte for Speaker.
If elected Speaker, Belmonte would be the fourth House Speaker to serve multiple terms, alongside Cornelio Villareal (1962-1967, 1971-1972), Jose Laurel, Jr. (1954-1957, 1967-1971), and Jose de Venecia, Jr. (1992-1998, 2001-2008).