PDP-Laban ruckus reveals leaders’ real intentions

The bitter power struggle within the top leadership of the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) should serve as a warning to voters about potential candidates who do not deserve to get elected.

In the past few weeks, the public has been treated to an exchange of accusations and bitter words between the camps of Sen. Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao and Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi with the backing of Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III and President Rodrigo Duterte, respectively.

PDP-Laban took Duterte under its wing in 2016 when he decided at the last minute to join the presidential race. Later, he was designated as chairman of the party.

Pimentel, the son and namesake of the party’s founder, the late senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr., was party president until he designated Pacquiao as acting president in December 2020 while he assumed the position of executive vice chairman. Cusi was vice chairman.

On July 9, the Pimentel-Pacquiao faction “immediately and automatically” expelled Cusi, along with Deputy Secretary General Melvin Matibag and membership committee head Astravel Naik, allegedly for violating provisions of the party’s constitution by “showing allegiance to a political party apart from PDP-Laban.” Duterte refused to recognize the expulsion of Cusi.

The infighting took an interesting turn during the party’s national assembly, attended mostly by the Duterte-Cusi faction, last July 17 in Clark, Pampanga. Pacquiao was ousted as acting president while Cusi was elected in his place.

Duterte lent credence to the election as he administered the oath-taking of the new officials of the PDP-Laban party who, aside from Cusi, also include Karlo Nograles as executive vice president, Parañaque Mayor Edwin Olivares, Raul Lambino, Eastern Samar Gov. Ben Evardone and Philippine Economic Zone Authority Director General Charito Plaza as vice president for Metro Manila, Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, respectively.

Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go was elected auditor general while Naik was reinstalled as membership committee chairman.

Pacquiao and Pimentel have said the “national assembly” and election of the new party officers were “unauthorized.” The senators’ faction will have its own national assembly next month.

In previous interviews, Pimentel said Cusi was paving the way for the candidacy of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio for president. Duterte-Carpio has her own regional party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago (Faction for Change).

Leaders of the political parties of the country’s three former presidents – Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats of Fidel Ramos and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino of Joseph Estrada – have signified their intention to form an alliance with Hugpong for Duterte-Carpio’s candidacy.

The People’s Reform Party of the late senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago had already signed up to an alliance with Hugpong.

In spite of the political maneuvering for her presidential bid, Duterte-Carpio has been saying that she has yet to decide on her plans for the 2022 elections. Two weeks ago, however, her position changed from not having any intention and waiting for 2034 to run for president into being open to calls for her to join the race in 2022.

All this ruckus is posturing for next year’s elections as the period for the filing of certificates of candidacy draws near.

Duterte’s earlier statement that he would run for vice president in the May 2022 elections was posturing so he won’t be considered a lame duck during his last year in office.

Last Saturday, he said he would do so in order to be protected from suits after he steps down in June next year.

Tinatakot, mademanda raw ako. Eh sabi ng batas, ‘pag presidente ka o bise presidente, may immunity ka. Eh di tatakbo na lang ako na bise presidente. Then after that, tatakbo ako ng bise presidente, then after that, tatakbo akong bise presidente,” Duterte said after administering the oaths of the new PDP-Laban officials.

(They try to scare me. But under the law, the president and vice president have immunity, so I will run for vice president instead, then run for vice president again, and again, and again.)

Retired Supreme Court associate justice Antonio Carpio and former senator Antonio Trillanes IV have previously said Duterte can be held liable over the Chinese incursions within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.

Duterte is also facing a potential investigation by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity over the killing of thousands of victims of his war on drugs.

Remember that Pacquiao too has income tax issues to settle. His recent anti-corruption stance can’t erase his past transgressions.

The statements of the PDP-Laban leaders, not only the president’s, reveal their real intentions in seeking public office. We don’t even have to read between the lines. Many of them go to the extent of using God in courting votes but they’re actually after their personal interests.

The public can expect more drama to unfold, starring the leaders of the PDP-Laban factions. Other political groupings may also step in as the election fever heats up. At this point, however, neither those in the Duterte-Cusi nor the Pimentel-Pacquiao faction deserve a place in the government.

The country needs leaders who will lead by good examples and not hide behind the power to escape accountability.

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.
This column also appeared in The Manila Times.