By Ali G. Macabalang
The President Duterte-led faction of ruling PDP-Laban party ousted Senator Manny Pacquiao as party president after its key member-players declared positions of officers vacant during a national assembly on Saturday, July 17.
The players led by the party vice chairman, Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, announced the vacancies of all national officer positions and committee chairs during their assembly in Clark, Pampanga. This effectively meant removing Pacquiao from his position as party president.
President Duterte, PDP-Laban’s chairman, administered the oath of Cusi and other new officers of the ruling party.
“Mr. Chairman, Mr. President, partymates, maraming, maraming salamat po sa tiwalang ibinigay niyo sa akin…I will live by the oath that I took in front of you,” said Cusi, who was introduced as the party president.
Cusi was among those expelled from the party in early July amid the growing rift between his faction and that of the Pacquiao wing backed by Senator Koko Pimentel. Pimentel’s party post as executive vice chair was believed among those declared vacant.
Senators Pacquiao and Pimentel snubbed the Saturday assembly, saying earlier that the gathering was unauthorized by the party national executive body.
Interviewed by the Rappler for his reaction to his ouster, Pacquiao expressed dismay that Cusi and his cohorts gave more preference to politicking over the health crisis aggravated by the emergence of the Delta variant of COVID-19 pandemic.
“Nakakalungkot na nakapasok na ang Delta variant sa Pilipinas at kapag hindi maagapan, marami ang maaaring mahawa. Ito dapat ang prayoridad ng ating gobyerno,” Pacquiao was quoted as saying.
“Kung sa tingin nila Cusi at iba pa na mas importante ang politika sa ngayon, bahala na sila. Sa huli, isa lang naman ang tanong na dapat sagutin: Sino ba ang sasamahan ng taumbayan?” added Pacquiao, who is currently training in the U.S. for his upcoming fight with Errol Spence on Aug. 21.
President Duterte, in a speech at the assembly, criticized Pacquiao’s nomination as party president. He said party stalwart Pimentel III violated PDP-Laban rules by naming Pacquiao as acting president in December 2020.
“May I just remind Koko that this party, PDP, was asleep for a hundred years. It only woke up during the election when I ran for the presidency under the ticket,” Duterte said in a mix of English and Filipino, crediting Koko’s late father, former Senator Nene Pimentel, for co-founding the party in the 1980s.
Duterte reiterated his belief on a possible legal protest by the Pacquiao camp, saying in jest that the Senator could now be drafting a petition before the Commission on Elections.
He also renewed his criticisms against opposition stalwarts, citing the names of former Senator Sonny Trillanes and retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Corona. He said the opposition was plotting to indict him after the end of his Presidential term.
He reminded the opposition that a sitting President and Vice President are immune from suits. Hence, he said, he was considering running for vice president in the 2022 elections.
Last week, Sec. Cusi and other key leaders of his faction met in Malacañang and urged Duterte to vie for the second top post with Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go as his Presidential partner.
In past media interviews, Pimentel had pointed out that the PDP-Laban party has over 100,000 members across the country and that the Cusi faction had gathered only about 100 key leaders and 10,000 field members.
Earlier in the Saturday assembly, the party declared all its national positions vacant, according to PDP-Laban Deputy Secretary General Melvin Matibag.
“We want to formalize it and the basis for declaring these posts vacant is that provision in the Constitution that the national officers only serve for two years. We want to seek a fresh mandate for all,” Matibag was quoted as saying.
In his interpretation, Matibag said, Paquiao was “not ousted” because the “PDP-Laban constitution gives the national officers a term of two years.”
“He (Pacquiao) took over the term of Sen. Pimentel” by designation, Matibag reportedly said, underscoring the need for the conduct of party officers’ election every two years.
Pacquiao earlier expelled Cusi, Matibag and Astra Naik, head of the membership committee, for allegedly violating provisions of the party’s constitution “by showing allegiance to a political party apart from PDP-Laban.” (AGM)