"And it is bound to get messier."
What is happening to the supposedly “administration” political party, the PDP Laban, can best be described by one word: Messy.
It all began when Sen. Koko Pimentel, son of the party’s founder, decided to relinquish his presidency in late 2019. He transferred the leadership, akin to a CEO where the chairman hardly involves himself in day-to-day affairs, to his fellow senator, Manny Pacquiao.
It just so happens that the chairman of the party is no less than the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, who has been an on-and-off member or a local ally of the PDP-Laban, his Davao City-based political party at times in alliance with the party of Koko’s father, the late Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel.
Sometime in 2004 or thereabouts, the patriarch also co-opted the mayor of wealthy Makati, Jejomar Binay, to head the party and manage its day-to-day affairs. It costs a pretty penny to organize, expand, and run a political party in this country where parties are not well-institutionalized.
Mayor Binay coalesced his PDP with the fallen Erap’s Partido ng Masang Pilipino, the late Senator Ed Angara’s Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) and the late Danding Cojuangco’s Nationalist People’s Coalition, parties coalesced during Erap’s short stint in Malacanang under the Laban ng Makabayang Masang Pilipino (LAMMP), to sponsor the entry of the “King of Philippine Movies,” the legendary FPJ, into national politics. Mayor Binay was the campaign manager of the FPJ run.
By hook or by crook, then incumbent Gloria Macapagal Arroyo won over the coalition’s FPJ in 2004, a controversial “victory” marred by the Hello Garci scandal.
From the vantage point of Makati City, Mayor Jojo built the PDP-Laban into a bigger political machine, and in 2007, allied still with the Tanay-imprisoned Erap, Jojo formed a senatorial ticket under the tagline of Genuine Opposition (GO) which opposed the GMA administration. The result of those mid-term elections overwhelmingly favored the GO coalition. Binay had become the de facto leader of the opposition.
From there, he parlayed the PDP-Laban into a run for the vice-presidency, with the fallen Erap attempting a comeback run for the presidency. In the wake of the death of political icon President Corazon Aquino, her son Benigno Simeon III was carried into the presidency under the banner of the Liberal Party. But while PNoy won, his team-mate, Senator Mar Roxas, narrowly lost to Jojo Binay for the vice-presidency.
All throughout this Binay journey from mayor to the vice-presidency, he nursed and grew the PDP-Laban, with founder Nene Pimentel a chair in emeritus capacity. But when Binay sought the presidency, and during the mid-term elections of 2013, the vice-president expanded his coalition and called it United Nationalist Alliance (UNA). This was the vehicle he used in gunning for the presidency in 2016. PDP Laban reverted to the Pimentels, this time to Nene’s son, Senator Koko, as president.
But then, a mayor from the Deep South, after much hemming and hawing, decided to finally run for the presidency, and in the haste of looking for a national party, conveniently found PDP Laban which had no candidate for president at the time. The rest is history. Duterte won, using PDP Laban as his political flag of convenience.
Yet as president, Duterte cared little for party politics. It was then Speaker Pantaleon “Bebot” Alvarez, having been chosen secretary-general of the new PDP, who actively filled the party with new recruits. In the turncoat tradition that has characterized Philippine politics for decades, most of these recruits came from established parties whose candidates lost in the 2016 elections to Duterte.
PDP Laban thus became a humongous party. But Davao’s Mayor Inday Sara Duterte conspired with then Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to oust Alvarez from his perch in the HoR in 2018, on the day of the President’s SONA, and barely a year before the mid-term elections of 2019.
Without Speaker Alvarez to lead (and foot the bills), and a President Duterte who cared little for party politics, PDP Laban’s President Koko had to scout around for someone to take control, much like a Mayor Binay in the time of his late father Nene.
The honor, perhaps now rightly labelled onus, was given to Senator Manny Pacquiao, the Pambansang Kamao who has ambitions for the presidency in 2022. It seemed like a political coup for the first-term senator from Sarangani.
In the euphoria of having a funder and new leader for the party, the new leadership failed to inform nor consult the chairman of the party, never mind if he was not into the nitty-gritty of party affairs. That chairman just happened to be Rodrigo Roa Duterte.
But then again, a pandemic which originated from China invaded the Philippines, and in fact, the whole world. No time whatsoever for petty politics, everyone in the administration had to have all hands on deck containing the havoc wrought by COVID-19. And so it was that Manny Pacquiao, along with Koko and their sub-alterns, given de facto run of the PDP.
Until January of 2021, when, like it or not, COVID or none, the presidential elections of 2022 loomed large on the horizon. The President discovered that in the transfer of power from Pimentel to Pacquiao, albeit in “acting” capacity because the party’s executive council or directorate had not ratified the “coronation”, not even fellow senators Bong Go, Bato de la Rosa, and Francis Tolentino, were consulted. It was a “kami-kami” affair among a select few in the party, with the wealthy pugilist Pacman happily funding what would have been his vehicle for the presidency come 2022.
The President’s men, led by party vice-chair and DOE Sec. Al Cusi, unsheathed their long knives in a council meeting sanctioned by the party chairman, in Cebu on the last days of May. A resolution was unanimously adopted to draft the incumbent President Duterte to run for vice president in the forthcoming elections, with the prerogative to choose his presidential candidate. Quite novel and quite strange.
Pacquiao and Pimentel were no shows. Instead of taking the cue, the Pambansang Kamao unleashed attacks first against Al Cusi, coinciding with a Luzon-wide brownout which was his charge as energy honcho. The recriminations worsened, and Cusi, acting once again on behest of the party chairman, called for a convention this coming July 17, there to formalize the decapitation of its “acting” president.
Smarting, Pacquiao started hurling charges of gross mismanagement and corruption against the administration, generic at first, and later when challenged by the President mismo, belting out specifics on the day he left for the US of A for his non-title fight with Errol Spence.
As certain as day turns into night, the administration, maybe the President himself, will rebuff the Pacman. Harsh words will be spoken. The basic question—“why only now?” will haunt the Pacman, who has pledged fealty to the president even if he ran in the senatorial ticket of UNA’s Jojo Binay in 2016 instead of under the ambit of his fellow Mindanaoan.
It is getting messy. It will get messier.
The tigers and lions in the political circus now playing will start devouring the clowns and the trapeze artists. Once more, it will be a winner-take-all affair.
Will the Pacman have the smarts to win the biggest battle of his life?