Around 50 lawmakers attend Lakas-CMD dinner at Arroyo's house
MANILA, Philippines – Around 50 legislators from different political parties gathered at the Quezon City home of former president and ex-House speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for a "get-together" dinner hosted by the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD) party.
The dinner held on Wednesday night, August 7, was organized by Arroyo's son, Pampanga 2nd District Representative Juan Miguel Arroyo, and their close ally, House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, who is Lakas-CMD's president.
The dinner of "Lakas with friends" was held on the same night that the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) held a thanksgiving party for Senator Manny Pacquiao amid the exodus of its members to the National Unity Party.
More lawmakers showed up for Lakas on Wednesday. But Capiz 2nd District Representative Fredenil Castro, who took his oath as Lakas member during the same event, said it was a "simple gathering."
He said Romualdez delivered a speech where he asked his colleagues to help the House leadership pass the proposed P4.1-trillion budget for 2020 by October. House ways and means committee chairperson Joey Salceda also rallied support for the tax reform bills that President Rodrigo Duterte wants the 18th Congress to pass.
"It was a gathering of few members of Lakas and it was a mixed crowd, because the invitation was for 'Lakas and friends.' It was a very simple gathering. Martin Romualdez, being the majority leader, discussed how we could possibly support the early passage of the 2020 budget," said Castro.
Anak Kalusugan Representative Mike Defensor arrived after the speeches were done. He said lawmakers stayed behind for some cocktails after the program.
"I arrived after dinner. Masaya naman (It was cordial)," said Defensor.
Arroyo herself, however, did not join the event on Wednesday night. Castro and another source present during the dinner said Arroyo greeted her former House colleagues at around 11 pm, when the gathering was already winding down.
Castro said Arroyo, who suffers from multiple cervical spondylosis, was undergoing a therapy session in another part of her house.
Arroyo had been a longtime member of Lakas-CMD, the party that helped propel her 9-year presidency. It was her party from 1998 until 2017, the year she transferred to PDP-Laban, the party chaired by her ally Duterte.
Lakas 'open' to expansion in House
While Lakas did not actively recruit members during the Wednesday dinner, two new members took their oath: Castro and Rizal 2nd District Representative Fidel Nograles, the nephew of the late House speaker Prospero Nograles Jr.
Castro was previously a member of Lakas-CMD, but he later transferred to NUP, the party formed in 2011 by disgruntled Lakas-CMD members. Earlier in August, Castro resigned as NUP president and left the party. Now, he is back with Lakas-CMD.
"It feels good to be back home. I used to be the Lakas-CMD party chair in the whole province of Capiz and I was also appointed as district chairman concurrently. It is a homecoming because I have returned to Lakas, my original party," said Castro.
Lakas-CMD currently has 11 members in the House.
In an interview on Tuesday, August 6, Romualdez had said Lakas remains "open" should more lawmakers decide to join their ranks.
"We're always open. And then, siguro hindi naman masama na kung 'yung presidente ng Lakas ay majority floor leader. Siguro may halaga din po iyon," said the Leyte 1st District representative.
(We're always open. And then perhaps it is not so bad that the president of Lakas is the majority floor leader. I think that has some value.)
Romualdez had been a strong contender for the speakership given his close relationships with lawmakers that he developed over the years. But he gave way after Duterte endorsed the term-sharing arrangement between Taguig City-Pateros Representative Alan Peter Cayetano of the Nacionalista Party and Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Velasco of PDP-Laban.
The 11 members of Lakas in the House are:
- House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, Leyte 1st District
- Deputy Speaker Prospero Pichay Jr, Surigao del Sur 2nd District
- Juan Miguel Arroyo, Pampanga 2nd District
- Maria Lourdes Arroyo, Negros Occidental 5th District
- Yasser Balindong, Lanao del Sur 2nd District
- Fred Castro, Capiz 2nd District
- Christopher de Venecia, Pangasinan 4th District
- Fidel Nograles, Rizal 2nd District
- Paz Radaza, Lapu-Lapu City
- Aleta Suarez, Quezon 3rd District
- Christian Unabia, Misamis Oriental 1st District