PDP-Laban factions Finale on Saturday: July 17 may dramatically alter Philippine political landscape

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This handout photo taken on June 30, 2016 and released by the Presidential Communication Operations Office (PCOO) shows Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte (C) walking with his children Sebastian (L), Veronica (2nd L), Sara (2nd R) and Paolo (R) after the oath-taking ceremony at the Malacanang Palace in Manila. Duterte warned of a "rough ride" after being sworn in as the Philippines' president on June 30, promising a relentless war on crime and corruption, but also to be a unifying leader. / AFP PHOTO / PCOO / STR / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / PRESIDENTIAL COMMUNICATION OPERATIONS OFFICE" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS ==

PDP-Laban, the brainchild of former Senators and nationalists Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., and numerous human rights lawyers such as former Vice President Jejomar Binay may completely collapse or revert it to its status as a nominal political party if factions do not come to a resolution this Saturday, July 17.

The party’s Executive vice chair, Senator Koko Pimentel, son of one of the founders, and ousted Vice President Alfonso Cusi of the Department of Energy are fighting a proxy war–Pimentel taking the cudgels for his colleague, party president Senator Manny Pacquiao Jr. who is now in the States preparing for his August bout with Errol Spence Jr. While Cusi is reportedly representing the interests of party chair, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte Jr. To buttress his political stock, Cusi reportedly convinced Duterte to bless this so-called “general assembly” of the PDP-Laban this coming Friday at Subic Bay free port. Duterte is allegedly attending the said event, clearly expressing where his loyalties lie.

Koko Pimentel accused Cusi of betrayal since the energy secretary allegedly tries to convince the party to endorse presidential daughter Sara Duterte’s 2022 presidential bid and of course, the expected vice presidential run of now President Rudy Duterte. This, says Koko and of course Pacquiao, violates party rules. Pacquiao Jr. is reportedly hell-bent on running for the presidency this coming year, buoyed by his decent showing at most of the surveys.

This July 17 general assembly may result to a fragmentation of the official administration party similar to what had happened during the terms of what I call the “liberal presidencies”–Aquino 1, Ramos, Estrada, Arroyo and even that of Aquino 2. Cory dropped speaker Ramon Mitra Jr. over allegations of gun running and instead, supported the tiny campaign machinery of her defense secretary Fidel Ramos. Mitra was the chair of Cory’s administration party. Ramos won.

The same thing happened when Ramos was exiting from the presidency–he silently favored his defense secretary Renato de Villa while he formally supported his kababayan Joe de Venecia Jr., presidential bid. De Villa and De Venecia Jr. both lost to a much organized campaign of former Vice President Joseph Estrada Jr. The administration’s defeat was not acceptable to Ramos and after three years, maneuvered his way towards EDSA dos.

When Arroyo is at her final year, her administration fielded or reportedly supported Senate president Manny Villar’s bid while also reportedly financed, Defense secretary Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro’s campaign. Again, like what had happened during Ramos time, both lost and paved the way for the landslide win of the Liberal party’s favored son, Benigno S. Aquino III.

And we all know what happened in the 2016 elections—the Aquino III administration split into two major factions: the Binay faction composed of personalities allied with former president Joseph Estrada and the Mar Roxas’ Liberals. These contending groups threw mud at each other that resulted to the win of Davao mayor and now president Rodrigo Roa Duterte.

Fast forward and we are now at the eve of the Duterte administration and clearly, political groups allied with the President are now supporting the presidential run of the presidential daughter, Davao mayor Sara Duterte. As things stand, the Hugpong ng Pagbabago seems to be a coalition of traditional political cliques: the first to express support, Lakas-CMD is obviously under the spell of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Manny Villar’s Nacionalista Party had expressed support behind Sara, alongside with National Unity Party led by political strategist Ronaldo Puno. Since JV Ejercito and Jinggoy Estrada wanted to run, their party, Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) has thrown their support behind Sara. And the husband of deceased Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, Jun Santiago, also committed her late wife’s political party, People’s Reform Party (PRP) into the so-called “Hugpong” coalition.

You guessed it right—it is only the main administration party, the PDP-Laban, who is being led by the president himself remains uncommitted to a Sara Duterte presidential bid. And the one thorn seems to be Senator Manuel “Manny” Pacquiao Jr, who is reportedly supported by former Ilocos sur and now Narvacan mayor Chavit Singson Jr., El Shaddai supported partylist Congressman Lito Atienza Jr and quite possibly, remnants of Binay’s faction who came from the former alliance that supported former actor Fernando Poe Jr’s presidential machinery.

So, you see, the only factor that prevents a permanent damage comes from the very administration party, the PDP-Laban. The thing is, unlike traditional political parties, the PDP-Laban tries to be a principled political animal. Compared with say, the Liberal Party, the PDP-Laban is the only political party with a clear ideological platform. The fact is, the PDP-Laban is the one Filipino political party that expressed strong formal ties with China’s Communist Party or CCP.  All the rest of these political aggrupation are just platforms by Big Business or we can conveniently say, oligarchs whose interests lie on carving the Philippine economic pie for themselves.

Being a political party, the PDP-Laban is a stickler to its own internal rules and the rules say that the party will only support the bid of its own member, and not from any political party. And if it desires an alliance, the coalition should be based on issues. Sources say, the persons who are reportedly trying to wrest the party out of the control of its old guards seemed to be those from the faction of former Lakas-CMD officials led by Alfonso Cusi and Melvin Matibag.

This current spat between Pimentel and Cusi’s groups is not merely for power—it is for principles. Unlike other parties, the PDP-Laban does not need support from strong political personalities—it has existed on its own since its founding. The question that now faces members of the PDP-Laban is—will it succumb to the band-wagon effect by supporting an outsider, Sara Duterte, as its official presidential candidate or stick to its guns and support Pacquiao’s bid.

Another betrayal and possible BBM-Pacquiao alliance

It seems like the Pacquiao political camp knows that this July 17 event will eventually be decided based on politics, and not principles. The fact that the Senator already filed a resolution seeking a formal Senate probe on the alleged ayuda scandal worth 10 billion pesos shows that the horse-trading happening between the two factions has now ended with both groups maintaining their stubborn positions. Pacman’s strategy is simple really—use the ayuda scandal as his political leverage against the other factions. The only thing is—for this scandal to work, Pacman has to go full time going around town and revealing the shady things about this scandal. Meaning, Pacman’s idea is to use the rostrum as his amplification tool.

The problem of this strategy is it relies on the media as a formidable ally against Duterte. What the Pacman does not know is that the media is an unreliable political ally and a weak one, at that. Firstly, the fragmentation caused by Mr. Duterte when the administration ran its campaign against ABS-CBN and other media organizations remains a problem. Pacman has to probably use his millions just to effectively drown out the opposition against him and muster enough support for his political aim.

Secondly, and probably Pacquiao’s handlers know this is the fact that no one can control what the media would be reporting. No one can claim that all or most of the things that would be said about this scandal would favor Pacquiao. And even if it does, the fact remains that scandals have expiry dates—normally, scandals last only for a month, max. And the timing does not augur well for Pacquiao. After the filing of candidacies by October, the whole political thing would temporarily stop by November and would only resume by January or February by which time, voters would have their choices or preferences already. Normally, campaigns are just “formalities” and many political analysts worth their salt would tell you that most politicians already know who among these national candidates have a chance of winning by March—two months before the May 9, 2022 elections. Unless, of course, Pacman’s handlers had a knack of timing and had the goods kept well hidden and had the guts to expose them before March.

I would surmise that by July 17, the stage is set for a possible Bongbong Marcos-Pacquiao Jr. tandem. This tandem is formidable—both are former political allies of Mr. Duterte and both were promised something but were betrayed. Bongbong, for one, was often praised by the President himself and was supported by the palace in his complaint before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, as what was believed by many. Pacquiao is likewise supportive of the President, that explains why the good senator got the job of the PDP-Laban’s president, because Duterte himself wanted him there.

Or, maybe, this July 17 will also convince Pacquiao to just gun for himself the vice presidential post or maybe just let these things pass, and just focus on a return run for the Senate. The one thing that many are saying that is sure to happen is the ouster of the Pacman from the PDP-Laban. Obviously, his political handlers would not try to fight city hall—especially Singson who has so many dealings with government. Count how many from the Pacquiao camp who are intending to run for 2022 and count how many of them need financial support. Then, you’ll know the real score behind this on-going political intramurals.

The Opposition landscape after July 17

A scenario of a Pacquiao ouster will also change the political landscape for the opposition. Pacquiao may gravitate towards 1Sambayan since some of the political personalities behind the Pacman’s group are former Binay associates, some of whom worked with Chavit Singson during that EDSA dos thing. The problem is 1Sambayan is mostly a creature made by Leftist intellectuals most of whom are not Pacquiao supporters and are trying very hard to push for a Leni Robredo candidacy. 1Sambayan knows that Robredo is not its strongest candidate and even former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV is not. The surveys show a consistent low trust rating. So, this coalition has fewer choices, namely: Sotto, Lacson, Moreno and possibly Pacquiao. Grace Poe’s handlers are not interested. Poe may probably gun for another Senate bid and target the first slot.

Sotto and Lacson are meanwhile, on a “consultation” round. Between the two, Sotto stands a pretty good chance of snatching the vice presidential post. Lacson’s fate is unknown. He may coalesce with 1Sambayan or maybe not. Lacson has always been the “dark horse” so to speak every presidential election. And in the past, Lacson has always been known to trade his position. His previous poll record is dismal. While I am personally respectful of Senator Lacson, but the political reality stares him at the face. He is past his prime and he knows it. Unless some powerful political force supports him, of which there is none at this very moment, Lacson’s chances are pretty slim.

And there lies the conundrum. If we are to base our analysis on 1Sambayan’s principles, definitely these two: Sotto and Lacson are not exactly of 1Sambayan material. Sotto once supported several issues that the Catholic church campaign against and Lacson’s record as a military man as one of the alleged torturers during the Marcos regime, remains a serious issue among some 1Sambayan convenors, especially from the Left political spectrum. Curiously though, 1Sambayan convenors led by Antonio Carpio and even Albert del Rosario expressed open-ness in accepting these two as candidates. This means that even within 1Sambayan, there is now a split in terms of politics and morality. That is the problem with this coalition—1Sambayan is trying very hard to infuse morality on politics—something that is akin to water and oil—these two cannot mix. Politics is a pragmatic game. For 1Sambayan to win in this elections, pragmatism is key.

So, is it possible for Pacquiao to be considered as a 1Sambayan presidential bet? Maybe. Will his chances be greater than, say Leni Robredo’s? Probably no since the minute Pacquiao volts out of PDP-Laban, he has nothing to offer except his popularity—nothing more. Does Pacquiao have a strong grassroots political machinery able to at least approximate that of his political enemies? Nothing that I know of, at this point. Granting for the sake of argument that Pacquiao does have that kind of machinery, will this machinery be strong enough to effectively guide the direction 1Sambayan campaign? Possibly no. Why? Because 1Sambayan was designed to push for a Robredo campaign. Unless Pacquiao’s handlers are also main actors within 1Sambayan, Pacman cannot muscle their way in this coalition.

Third Force?

There is a sizeable portion of the population who will probably welcome a so-called “third force.” The problem is—who will be this third force?

Will it be ex-Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. who is reportedly serious in running for the presidency? The Kilusang Bagong Lipunan or KBL is curiously absent in the Hugpong coalition. Is this an indication that talks between Sara Duterte and the Marcos camp already ended? What about Senator Imee Marcos who is reportedly an amiga of the presidential daughter?

Here’s the thing about former Senator Bongbong Marcos Jr. Time is against him. He sought for the vice presidency but lost. He has two options now: run for the presidency and stake all his family’s political capital running against Duterte. Or, he runs for the senate and win another term. By 2028, Marcos would have been about seventy years old and most of his family’s arch enemies would have been dead by then or effectively and politically neutralized of which time, there may be a much stronger chance of snatching the presidency once more and regain their lost Marcos glory. The thing is, his mother, former First Lady Imelda Marcos may have been too old or possibly dead by the time. So many thinks this is the last time for Bongbong Marcos to raise the Marcos banner once more—for the last time.

The most logical option really is for a Senate run. However, there is this possibility of winning if the fragmentation of the administration party happens that would give rise to a third force—a BBM-Pacquiao Jr. run.

The Most Possible Scenario in 2022

Here is a bold prediction: Sara Duterte giving way to Bongbong Marcos a few months before the elections or vice-versa. Bong Go and even president Rodrigo Duterte are just effective foils. How about Pacquiao? He may possibly run for vice president and make the vice presidential contest a hard one for Sotto. If this happens, then, expect a continuity of the Duterte administration.

How about 1Sambayan? Surely, they may field a surprise candidate, but not Robredo. Robredo is very keen on a comeback in Bicolano politics, possibly contesting El Rey for the gubernatorial slot. Robredo’s camp is still testing the waters so to speak, yet, their tests may end by September of which time, 1Sambayan may actually already formally announce their bets. What is the most winnable tandem for them?

Roxas-Sotto?

Shocking but possible— a Mar Roxas-Sotto tandem. Yes. If the former officials of the Aquino administration and all their previous political groups get their acts together, with the Magdalos of Trillanes again regroups and consolidates its grassroots network, there is a pretty big chance of winning. Sotto has his own electoral machinery to offer and the same with Roxas. How about Trillanes? Well, he may possibly go back to the Senate. Winnability? There is still enough political support for a Trillanes senate comeback but not for a vice presidential and surely, not presidential, unless of course, the good senator attracts all the best minds and political grassroots operators by his side before September. As things stand, this is an impossibility. A strong tandem? Yes, it will surely and possibly defeat a Duterte-Duterte, a Duterte-Go or even a BBM-Duterte tandem.

Of course, we are throwing these out in the air. This actually depends much on Mar Roxas—will this be enough to pull him out of political retirement? Will this convince his mother and shore up support from all the other peninsulares?

 

 

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