[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Arroyo, who won a congressional seat in her home province of Pampanga, and winning governor Lilia Pineda are proclaimed by poll officials in San Fernando City the other night. WILLY PEREZ]

MANILA , MAY 14, 2010 (STAR) The competition for the position of House Speaker is firming up between President Arroyo of the ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD and newly elected Quezon City fourth district Rep. Feliciano Belmonte Jr. of the Liberal Party (LP).

Reelected Albay Gov. Joey Salceda said he received information that Mrs. Arroyo had started calling up her House allies shortly after being proclaimed the winner of the congressional race in the second district Pampanga.

Salceda had defected from the administration party to the LP.

“This ground war is second only to the presidential elections in terms of stakes,” he said. “I tell you, this is of tectonic magnitude.”

He said Sen. Benigno Aquino III’s LP is expected to form an alliance with Sen. Manuel Villar Jr.’s Nacionalista Party (NP) to make sure Belmonte wins the House leadership.

“It would be interesting to see the complicated configurations that will emerge. Who will ally with whom? Will the LP be willing to ally with the NP? How will the LP go in making concessions to make sure its candidate (Belmonte) wins?” Salceda said.

Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs Prospero Pichay, on the other hand, said he is not aware of any plans by Mrs. Arroyo to consolidate her forces to secure House leadership.

“I have not spoken with her lately and I have not heard about her plans but if you ask me, why would she run for congresswoman if she is not gunning for the speakership?” Pichay said in a phone interview.

Reelected Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez of Lakas believes President Arroyo might end up being the minority leader instead because the party might not be able to obtain a majority.

“At most, we have 106 winning Lakas-Kampi congressional candidates, plus some party-list allies. Assuming we can get 25 to 30 from party-list groups, those numbers are not enough. A comfortable majority would be 170 to 180,” Suarez told the Serye Café news forum in Quezon City.

He said Mrs. Arroyo has not yet expressed her intention to run for speaker but will she will be supported by most of the administration lawmakers.

Elected Lakas congressmen will meet this weekend or the next to discuss their plans. Suarez said, however, that it is possible that some of them may have committed to join the coalition formed by the LP.

While Mrs. Arroyo’s allies are mapping out their strategy, a group led by Belmonte is meeting with elected NP lawmakers today.

Elected Romblon Rep. Jesus Madrona said they are “willing to enter into a working alliance with the LP.”

Senate majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri of Lakas said the ruling party should not underestimate Belmonte’s abilty to get allies.

“Sonny Belmonte has been making strides, he has been calling congressmen including my brothers… They should not take it lightly at all,” Zubiri said.

He said President Arroyo does have a plan to run for speaker because congressional candidates received more logistics and financial support than the local government candidates.

“I received many complaints as I was in Bukidnon during the elections. They (Lakas allies) were complaining that they were not receiving any support. They were made to fend on their own. Priority was given to congressmen,” Zubiri said.

Zubiri said the administration party might become the minority party this time.

“The dominant party in the last Congress might become the minority party now. That’s what happens to all dominant parties. So, in my case, I would rather take a more independent stance and see where I will go,” he said. – Jess Diaz, Paolo Romero, Christina Mendez

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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