THE head of the influential Visayas bloc in the House of Representatives, together with a number of local officials, bolted the ruling Liberal Party (LP) after the party leadership junked its members in favor of rival politicians in the province of Negros.
Rep. Alfredo “Albee” Benitez, one of the richest members of Congress and an LP provincial chairman, said he will run as an independent candidate for reelection next year after confirming that the LP had abandoned mayoral bets who are loyal to him.
“Although it was my original intent to file my candidacy under LP, I was informed that my mayors have opponents fielded by LP. It is only right that I stay with them, that I stand by them. To be running under LP means that I am siding with their opponents – something that I cannot and will not do. They are my people and I am their leader,” Benitez said in an interview.
Benitez is head of the 44-member “Visayan bloc,” the biggest aggrupation of lawmakers who support the administration of President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
His announcement confirmed an earlier report by The Manila Times that Benitez and his group were raring to bolt the LP after a “falling out” with some party officials.
Sources told The Manila Times that Benitez was slighted by the LP leadership’s decision to endorse the candidacy of Gov. Alfredo Marañon without consulting the lawmaker and other LP officials in Negros.
Besides siding with local mayors who were “abandoned” by LP, party sources also claimed that Benitez is torn between LP vice presidential bet Leni Robredo and fellow lawmakers Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos and Francis Escudero. The two senators are “very close to his heart.”
“But Rep. Benitez believes Robredo is a good candidate too for having a clean slate,” the source said.
According to the lawmaker, he had “no choice” but to take an independent stand because his mayors “all have opponents from the Liberal Party.”
“It is not a simple matter of abandoning my party. I just chose to stand by my people, who by the way, are all LP members and supporters – but who are now unfortunately, up against LP candidates,” he stressed.
While admitting that they have “differences” with the party’s leadership, Benitez said he remains open to supporting the candidacy of LP standard bearer Manuel “Mar” Roxas 2nd with whom he was reported to have a “falling out.”
Asked if he would support other candidates, probably Sen. Grace Poe for president, Benitez replied: “For now I am focused on my district and on our Visayan block.”
“I am an independent who has yet to make a choice. And when that happens, I will let you know. I will make a public and open stand,” he said.