The political party that propelled Rodrigo Duterte to the presidency in 2016 and which Sen. Manny Pacquiao took over as president last year, showed signs of cracking last week.
This, after Pacquiao issued an advisory telling all members of PDP-Laban to ignore the call for a national council assembly issued by party Vice-chairman Alfonso Cusi, who serves as Energy secretary in the Duterte Cabinet.
Cusi called for the meeting in Cebu City last week, apparently without the knowledge of Pacquiao. This angered the champion boxer-turned-senator, who then issued a memorandum telling all members to “ignore” Cusi’s call.
Over the weekend, however, Cusi said the assembly was intended to show support for the President, whose term expires next year.
Cusi said a consultation was necessary to determine ways to support Duterte and his programs “as his term nears its end.”
Pacquiao said any call for a national assembly needed to be approved by himself as party president, and the President as party chairman.
Unlike Duterte and Pacquiao, Cusi – the third highest ranking official of the party – has never been elected to any government post. Cusi became a billionaire through a shipping company that focused on distributing oil and gas products throughout the archipelago.
While Pacquiao is almost certain to be PDP-Laban’s bet to run for president next year, the vice- presidential slot remains open, with Malacañang sending mixed signals on the possibility Duterte may seek the post.
Pacquiao, however said he was not informed of a party resolution supposedly asking the President to run for vice-president next year. As such, that resolution was “illegitimate,” according to Pacquiao.
He said he only found out about the resolution from his people.
Pacquiao added that he intended to call for a nationwide party meeting in September but Cusi insisted on pushing through with his plan as part of the “political process.”
While the elections are scheduled next year, the filing of certificates of candidacy will be held later this year.
Despite the differing statements from Cusi and Pacquiao, both leaders separately said that the party remained united.
According to the Energy secretary, “We wish to reiterate that the assembly is part and parcel of the democratic process that every major political party should embrace.”
For his part, Pacquiao said reports that party members were preparing to leave PDP-Laban in large numbers were false, and that the exact opposite was the case.
He said “many” wanted to join his party but he said no oath-taking could take place due to the pandemic.
The President has not commented on the plan to ask him to run for vice-president. And he has neither supported any candidate. Although his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, is said to be interested in running for president, as is Senator Bong Go, the President’s longtime aide before running for senator.
Former PDP-Laban president ex-Senate president Aquilino Pimentel III said there was no infighting within the ruling party, despite the Cusi-Pacquiao war of words last week.
There is a time and place for politics, Pimentel said, and now is not that time.
This, despite Pacquiao saying that he was “warning” Cusi against causing dissention within the party’s ranks.
As party president, Pacquiao said it was his responsibility “to enforce rules, promote cooperation, insist on civility and respect, and most of all remind you that we are one team.”
While Pacquiao and Cusi are both billionaires in peso terms, the richest lawmaker remains Sen. Cynthia Villar, whose husband Manny Villar is a billionaire in dollar terms.