MANILA (4th Update, 1:19 p.m.) -- Representative Feliciano "Sonny" Belmonte (fourth district, Quezon City) will officiate the first State of the Nation Address (Sona) of President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III this afternoon, together with elected Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.

Belmonte was officially declared by the lower chamber as House speaker after getting 227 votes as against Representative (first district, Albay) Edcel Lagman's 29 votes.

Enrile, on the other hand, got 17 votes from his colleagues as against the three votes of rival Senator Alan Peter Cayetano to retain his post as Senate President.

Losing in the races, Lagman was automatically elected as House minority floor leader, while Cayetano is the Senate minority floor leader.

The elections in the Senate and House of Representatives Monday marked the opening of the country's 15th Congress.

In his speech, Belmonte expressed gratitude to his colleagues and said that he aims, as new Speaker of the House, to strengthen the functions of the lower chamber.

"Through your trust and confidence, I stand here once again as speaker of the House of Representatives. Thank you for your support. Be assured that I will work hard...We are accountable to each and every Filipino that we serve. We are accountable according to the values of honesty and integrity," said Belmonte.

Congressmen from Zamboanga del Norte, Makati, Manila, Cebu province, Cebu City, Sarangani, Antipolo, Batangas, Muntinlupa, Sulu, party-lists Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Abante Mindanao, Akbayan, ACT Teachers, Agham and Gabriela voted for the three-term Quezon City mayor.

As expected, the Arroyo family, voted for the Lakas-Kampi bet.

As part of the tradition in the House of Representatives, the nominees gave a vote each for their opponents.

Proceedings

House of Representatives Secretary General Marilyn Barua-Yap and Majority Leader Representative Neptali "Boyet" Gonzales II (lone district, Madaluyong) presided over the first session and the nomination of the House speakers.

A total of 258 congressmen, out of the total 287, were in attendance, which is enough to establish a quorum.

Representative Joseph Emilio Abaya, who will chair the committee on appropriations, formally nominated Belmonte, and was affirmed by other lawmakers including Bagong Henerasyon party-list Representative Bernadette Herrera-Dy -- a former councilor of Quezon City.

"It is about choosing a leader who can bring us together in confronting the challenging future ahead... (He will) help in turning our country around and putting it back to the right track," said Abaya.

Representative Rodolfo Albano (first district, Isabela), meanwhile, nominated Lagman, saying the Lakas-Kampi bet, while in government service, was not afraid to take a stand on controversial issues.

"(He is the) defender of the oppressed and the marginalized and a distinguished senior," Albano said. After his speech about Lagman, Representative Danilo Suarez (third district, Quezon) affirmed the nomination of Lagman.

Among those who were in attendance in the first session were the six congressmen from the province of Cebu, Eduardo Gullas (first district), Pablo Garcia (second district), Pablo John Garcia (third district), Benhur Salimbangon (fourth district), Ramon Durano (fifth district), Gabriel Luis Quisumbing (sixth district), Cebu City congressmen Rachel del Mar (north district) and Tomas Osmena (south district).

Also present were celebrities-turned politicians Manny Pacquiao (Sarangani), Lucy Torres-Gomez (fourth district, Leyte) and Lani Mercado-Revilla (second district, Cavite).

Arroyo can't perform duty

Former President and incumbent Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (second district, Pampanga) did not attend the first session because she had to accompany her husband in Hong Kong for a medical check-up.

As a consequence, Representative Arroyo still cannot perform as official member of Congress.

Lakas-Kampi-CMD spokesperson Raul Lambino said Mrs. Arroyo could not execute her duties because she has not been formally sworn in as member of the House of Representative.

"Hindi pa siya makakapag-perform as a member of Congress hanggat hindi siya na swear in formally kasi yun ang requirement under the rules of the House of Representative," Lambino said, adding that this is the implication of his non appearance in the opening of Congress.

Lambino also said Mrs. Arroyo will not be aligned either with the majority or the minority because she failed to vote for the House speakership.

"Unless she is going to put in writing kung sino ang kanyang preferred candidate for the speakership she could not be designated as align with the majority or the minority," he explained.

He said the former President will not be sanctioned because her reason not to attend was valid.

Enrile's oath-taking

In the Senate, former President Joseph Estrada and Vice President Jejomar Binay were requested to witness the oath-taking of Enrile as the Senate President.

Enrile ran for the post after some members of the Liberal Party asked him to retain his post.

"They (LP senators) told me that there is a growing consensus. As far as they were concerned, there's a growing consensus that they would want me to handle the Senate. I said if that is the consensus, then so be it. But I am not going to go around and talk to all the senators to vote for me...," he said last week.

Enrile earlier signed a resolution supporting Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan's bid for Senate President.

Pangilinan, however, backed out from the race Sunday, hoping that his decision would pave the way for members of the Senate to unite.

Another contender, Senator Manny Villar, also reportedly dropped his bid Sunday night.

In his speech Monday, Enrile thanked all those who attended the "historic session".

"We will uphold the integrity and independence of the Senate. We must dedicate our time and energy for them and we must guard the sacred honor they have imposed on us," he said.

"I cannot reciprocate enough the honor you have done me... All I can promise and do is to be faithful to your trust," he added.

Senator Jinggoy Estrada is reinstalled as Senate President Pro Tempore, while Senator Tito Sotto is elected as the new majority floor leader.

Lawyer Emma Reyes is also reinstalled as Senate secretary and Retired Major General Jose Balajadia is reinstated as head of Senate sergeant-at-arms.

The 86-year-old Enrile is the second post-Edsa Senate leader to receive an overwhelming confidence vote.

Former Senate President Jovito Salonga earlier held the distinction in 1987 when allies of then President Corazon Aquino filled up the seats of the reopened Senate, an institution padlocked for 14 years under the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

Only 23 members

The Senate only has 23 members after Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III rose to the presidency but only 20 were present after Senator Antonio Trillanes IV was not allowed to leave detention and Senator Panfilo Lacson is still in hiding due to his involvement in the Dacer-Corbito double murder case.

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago failed to attend the opening session as well.

Senate Secretary Emma Reyes opened Monday's session, while former Senate President Franklin Drilon acted as presiding officer.

Upon the recognition of Drilon, Senator Loren Legarda nominated Senator Enrile as Senate President, citing his experience and for taking care of the welfare of the Senate in the past two years.

Senator Joker Arroyo, on the other hand, nominated Nacionalista Party Senator Alan Peter Cayetano for the chamber's top post.

Seventeen senators voted for Enrile while those who picked Cayetano are his sister Pia Cayetano, Arroyo, and Enrile himself.

Drilon administered the oath of Enrile, which was witnessed by his wife, former Ambassador to the Holy See Cristina Ponce-Enrile, former President Joseph Estrada and Vice President Jejomar Binay.

"It portrays your patriotism as responsible leaders of the country. It also signals the unity that is sorely needed by the country today. The senate will be strengthen no doubt...I cannot reciprocate enough the honor you have done me...All I can promise and do is to be faithful to your trust," Enrile told his colleagues. (Sunnex)