Factions within the ruling PDP-Laban continued to bicker Sunday after a group led by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi voted to oust Senator Manny Pacquiao as party president over the weekend, a move that Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado said was aboveboard.
The faction of Pacquiao and Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, on the other hand, said the PDP-Laban national assembly on Saturday in Clark violated the party's by-laws.
Pimentel also insisted that Cusi was still expelled from the party despite being elected by his faction as president to replace Pacquiao—before PDP-Laban chairman President Rodrigo Duterte – in Clark.
“In the eyes of PDP-Laban headquarters, Cusi is expelled because of acts inimical to the best interest of the party, disloyalty to the party," said Pimentel over Super Radyo dzBB.
But Avisado said in a separate interview: “Contrary to the position of Senator Pimentel and Senator Pacquiao's faction, we believe our group is following the constitution and by-laws of the party.”
He said despite the political infighting, Pacquiao and Pimentel remained members of the party, and noted that the latter was also a member of the PDP-Laban's Council of Elders.
Avisado said there will be a national convention in September, even as the Pacquiao group sought to organize a national assembly in the same month.
The political infighting began after Pacquiao said P10 billion in government funds was lost to corruption, a statement that President Duterte, chairman of the party, took as a personal affront.
Duterte said Pacquiao was “punch-drunk” when he made the allegation and has continued to tear into the senator and boxing champ, who is in the US preparing for a bout in August.
Duterte personally led the oath taking of the party's new officials on Saturday, during which Cusi replaced Pacquiao as party president.
A statement issued by the Pacquiao camp said all actions taken during the “illegal assembly” on Saturday have no force and effect on the PDP-Laban because these were not sanctioned by the party president.
The party's original members and chapters expressed support for Pacquiao, and denounced the Cusi-led Clark assembly, the faction said.
In a Zoom meeting, Pimentel reminded members to stay united behind the leadership of Pacquiao.
He underscored the need for everyone to remain strong and trust the leadership of Pacquiao as their party is facing challenges.
He told them not to worry as they are fighting for the real voices of chapter members in the whole country.
Cagayan de Oro City Council President Marlo Tabac, a PDP-Laban grassroots leader in Mindanao, said Pacquiao has full support of the majority of the PDP-Laban members, who do not recognize the proceedings and the actions taken in the Clark assembly.
“The Clark assembly is a farce. Many of those (people) present are not even real members of PDP-Laban. Their political loyalty has never been with PDP-Laban so there’s really no doubt in my mind that they are out to destroy the party," he said.
"Let me remind them however that this was not the first time that people tried to bring down PDP-Laban, but they failed. I can tell you now, they will fail again,” Tabac said.
Jovel Lopez, a PDP-Laban community leader in Bulacan and a party cadre since the founding of party by the elder Pimentel in 1982, said he does not understand why party newcomers and interlopers are now trying to wrest control of the party.
The original members, Lopez added, were being shoved to the backseat.
Cusi wants Davao Mayor Sara Duterte Carpio, the President's daughter, to be the party's standard bearer in next year's elections, while Pacquiao wants to run for president.
Pimentel, the party's executive vice chairman, said the gathering at Royce Hotel and Casino hosted by Cusi is not recognized by the existing PDP-Laban leadership.
"Since Secretary Cusi wants to be a stickler for rules, then he should follow all the rules of the Party," also said Pimentel, son of the late Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr., co-founder of PDP-Laban.
"You cannot make attendees to a PDP-Laban party assembly instant members of the party on the spot. As far as the present PDP-Laban leadership is concerned, we will continue to function as the party," vowed Pimentel, who turned over the reins to Pacquiao as party president.
The election of the new officers and Pimentel's remarks highlighted the widening rift within the PDP-Laban.
President Duterte blamed Pimentel for the bickering, saying Pacquiao does not know anything because "he's not reading." He said the boxing champ merely followed what was told him.
Prof. Dennis Blanco of the UP political science department said the infighting could lead other parties to consider recruiting Pacquiao.
In an interview with radio dzBB, Blanco said the opposition could consider Pacquiao as their standard bearer.
Blanco said the rift between the Cusi and Pacquiao factions within the PDP-Laban party could benefit the opposition. If they can't have a unified candidate, this would favor the opposition, he added.
Senator Christopher Go, who is constantly in the President's company, denied Pacquiao's claims, saying anti-corruption efforts have improved under the Duterte administration.
On Saturday, electricity consumers led by the Power for People Coalition (P4P), decried Cusi’s preoccupation with the leadership dispute in the PDP-Laban party even as electricity rates remained high and its supply tenuous after five years with the latter at the helm.
Under Cusi, the DOE presided over at least one power crisis, saw the country embrace coal as its primary source of energy in violation of its commitments to the Paris Agreement, and allowed generation companies and distribution utilities to jack up prices.
“As I understand, Secretary Cusi is being paid by the DOE to work for an energy sector that benefits all Filipinos. The fracas inside PDP
Laban showed that Cusi can work quickly and effectively to get what he wants. But after five years in DOE, we just have to ask if he really wants what’s best for electricity users in the country,” said Gerry Arances, P4P Convenor.
Cusi was expelled from PDP-Laban the previous week but was restored to his position as vice chairman in the party’s National Council meeting on Friday.
“I wonder what would happen if people could expel Secretary Cusi from DOE. Will he be able to fix all the problems of the energy sector within a week? The problems of high energy prices and low energy supply have been around since his first day in office,” Arances said.