Declaring they’re “ready to rumble,” an official of the PDP-Laban party in Cagayan de Oro declared his and other party members’ support for the party’s acting president Sen. Manny Pacquiao. Mario Tabac, president of the PDP-Laban Council in the city, denounced other party officials for engaging in “special operations” to oust the boxing champion from his party post.
His fears are not entirely without basis. Over the last few days, Pacquiao and his supporters, including Sen. Koko Pimentel, son of PDP-Laban’s founder the late Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, have engaged in verbal wrangling with other party officials. They include vice chair Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi and, most ominously, the party chair himself, President Duterte.
In a radio interview, Pacquiao claimed that corruption under the Duterte administration has worsened to levels far worse than any of his predecessors. This earned the immediate ire of the President, who challenged the senator to “start talking.” If he failed to do so, he said, “I will campaign against you, because you are not doing your duty… I will just tell the people, ‘Do not vote for Pacquiao because he is a liar.’”
Thus did the latest exchange of blows begin. Actually, the first volley was fired when Cusi as PDP-Laban vice chair convened a party council meeting in May over the strenuous objections of Pacquiao, who has made no bones about his desire to run for president. That meeting resulted in a call not for Pacquiao to lead the party to Malacañang, but for President Duterte to take the unprecedented step of running for vice president in 2022. The attendees even gave Mr. Duterte a free hand in choosing the presidential candidate he would run with, surely an aberration in Philippine politicsʍbut so is the idea of a president seeking a new term as VP after leaving office.
The President’s partisans, according to Pimentel, are just waiting for the PDP-Laban to “implode” before they up and create their own independent vehicle to launch the candidacies of Mr. Duterte and his ticket. Pimentel must be by now ruing the party’s gleeful embrace of the former Davao mayor in 2016 and launching him to national prominence.
Pacquiao has taken up the President’s challenge, naming the Department of Health as the first of the many agencies where corruption is alleged to have flourished especially in the course of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. The allegations are somewhat backed by recent international assessments listing the Philippines as ranking near the bottom of countries in its response to the public health crisis. But, true to form, the Palace dismissed the latest damning feedback on its performance and reflexively defended the DOH against Pacquiao’s jabs.
The President, for his part, resorted to sly innuendos about shortcomings in Pacquiao’s personal life and unfitness for national office, saying that prowess in the ring did not translate to political (or intellectual) skill. Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque had to stress the obvious, remarking that “the relationship between the President and Senator Pacquiao is not as cordial as it was.” You can say that again.
Even former speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, a slavish supporter of the President, seems to be distancing himself from the administration now that elections are near, backing up Pacquiao’s supposed quest for the truth in his tangle with the Big Boss: “Ang importante lumabas ang totoo,” intoned Cayetano.
Filipino voters may find value in such seamy intramurals. With plenty of time to assess the qualities for leadership of those running for office before voting begins, the public can dismantle and unpack the flurry of accusations and counter-accusations candidates hurl against each other, for greater discernment come election time.
The latest word is that the President has confirmed he is putting his name out there as a VP candidate, “to maintain the equilibrium.” Lawyer Christian Monsod, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, is warning against this scenario: “For the President to run for vice president is against the intent of the Constitution. It’s an insidious move to circumvent the constitutional prohibition on reelection because the vice president is the mandatory line of succession to a vacancy. Now, if you allow the President to run again as vice president, that vacancy can be created for a self-serving purpose, which is exactly what the intent is.”
But the current PDP-Labanʍthe party founded by Ninoy Aquino, Nene Pimentel, and Lorenzo Tañada, and once a vanguard of the libertarian struggle against the Marcos dictatorshipʍis only too enthusiastic about this reckless, dangerous game. “Considering the clamor I have seen,” said Cusi, “mahina po ang 90 percent na susuporta” if Mr. Duterte does run for VP. How far the fruit has fallen from the tree.
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