Since it became Rodrigo Duterte’s political vehicle in the 2016 presidential election, the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) has expanded from a small political party to a 100,000-strong membership in 2018.
But even with the Philippine president as its chairman, the ruling PDP-Laban is not spared from internal controversies – his actions and pronouncements have even encouraged the formation of factions within his adoptive party.
Against the directive of party president Senator Manny Pacquiao, party chairman President Duterte ordered Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi to organize a national council assembly. In that assembly, attendees passed a resolution urging Duterte to run for vice president in 2022.
On Friday, July 9, Pacquiao, backed by the son and namesake of PDP founder Aquilino Pimentel Jr., expelled Cusi, the party’s vice chairman, for pushing for a Sara Duterte-Rodrigo Duterte ticket in next year's polls. Sara is not a member of the party, while Pacquiao is believed to be eyeing the presidency.
Only a week later, however, the party ousted Pacquiao as party president and elected Cusi in his place during the party's national assembly on Saturday, July 17. Duterte himself led the event, while Pacquiao was in the United States, training for an upcoming boxing match.
Infightings have often plagued PDP-Laban going into election seasons.
Prior to Duterte’s term, then-vice president Jejomar Binay, who was PDP-Laban chairman, left the party ahead of his 2016 presidential bid. He cited factionalism, disunity, and problems with leadership as the reasons for cutting ties with the party. Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III replaced him as the party's chairman.
Before the midterm elections in 2019, the factions among party leaders endorsed candidacies without consulting each other, leading to a court case. Now, as the 2022 polls near, Pacquiao's camp says they are "ready to rumble" against Cusi's.
Here’s a timeline of the party’s infightings and legal battles during the Duterte administration.
A faction in the party “unseats” Pimentel and former House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez as its leaders during the party’s 11th National Assembly.
The move is led by Wilfredo Talag, president of PDP-Laban Makati City council and chair of the membership committee of the National Capital Region chapter, and Rogelio Garcia, PDP-Laban national council chair.
Pimentel says “expelled rogue members” held the “unauthorized” assembly, and that they will be dealt with under party rules.
Pimentel remains as the party's president.
A day before the assembly took place, House Deputy Speaker Rolando Andaya Jr., a member of Lakas party, says a “handful” of PDP-Laban members are eyeing to jump ship to other political parties in time for the 2019 polls, triggered by Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s takeover of the House speakership from Alvarez.
Singer Freddie Aguilar, who campaigned for Duterte, files his certificate of candidacy for senator in the 2019 midterm elections, saying he is running under PDP-Laban. On the same day, the party disowns Aguilar as one of its senatorial bets, despite Aguilar’s claim that he has a certificate of nomination and acceptance (CONA) from the party.
Aguilar’s CONA is signed by Talag, who claims to be the secretary-general of PDP-Laban. Pimentel reiteratesthat Talag is part of what he calles a “rogue” PDP-Laban faction led by lawyer Rogelio Garcia, President Duterte's classmate.
The Commission on Elections holds a hearing to resolve the row between factions in the ruling party. Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon says the factions of Pimentel and Garcia are given 10 days to submit their written arguments.
The Comelec recognizes the camp of Pimentel as the legitimate leadership of PDP-Laban. It says the sworn information update statement and list of authorized signatures submitted by Pimentel’s group will also be recognized as legitimate and official for the 2019 elections.
The Supreme Court upholds Comelec’s earlier resolution and declares the faction of Pimentel as the rightful representation of PDP-Laban in the recently-concluded May 2019 elections.
The High Court says Garcia's petition did not sufficiently prove that Comelec committed grave abuse of discretion in issuing the November 2018 resolution, but it does not close the doors to the Garcia faction filing a direct case against the legitimacy of Pimentel's group.
Pacquiao takes over as PDP-Laban acting president. Pimentel is now PDP-Laban's executive vice chairman.
Pacquiao warns members to stop their political moves that are “unauthorized” by the party. This comes after several party officers and members sign a resolution, calling on Duterte to run for vice president in 2022.
Pacquiao issues a memorandum circular, “strongly” advising party members against heeding the invitation of party vice chairman and Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi to an assembly since “this is not the time for politics.”
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque says Duterte himself directed Cusi “to organize, convene, and preside over the council meeting" on May 31.
PDP-Laban holds its national council meeting in Cebu City, where Cusi and other PDP-Laban members adopt a resolution, calling for Duterte to run for vice president and choose whoever he wants as stand-bearer.
Pacquiao boycots the event.
Meanwhile, Duterte urges members of PDP-Laban to “stand together and remain united” as factions within the party clashed just a year before the 2022 presidential polls.
Duterte himself draws battle lines between the warring factions of Pacquiao and Cusi. During his address to the nation, Duterte makes it clear that Pacquiao is no longer his ally after the senator made allegations of corruption in the administration's pandemic response.
Pacquiao signs separate resolutions expelling Cusi, party secretary-general Melvin Matibag, and membership committee head Astra Naik for allegedly supporting the presidential candidacy of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, a party outsider. The resolutions also declare as "void" the national assembly held last May 31, and the upcoming July 17 assembly set by Cusi's group.
The President meets with the Cusi-led faction and says he will "seriously consider" their resolution urging him to run for vice president. He also vaguely addresses the issue of infighting within PDP-Laban, and says the conflict will have to be dealt with in the "legal way," in relation to party "accreditation."
PDP-Laban announces the expulsion of the three party officials.
Cusi is elected party president, in place of Pacquiao. He announces the vacancies of all national officer positions and committee chairs.
Duterte attends the assembly and blames Pimentel for the party rift. He also says PDP-Laban owes him a lot because the party “only woke up” when he ran for president under the party in 2016.