Only permanent interests
Among the flurry of reactions to what’s going on right now in PDP-Laban, one of the most interesting was what one supporter of the “original” party leadership was moved to comment. What is happening, said the supporter, is akin to “inviting strangers to your home only to see them take over your place and even drive you away.”
The speaker was of course referring to the “ruckus” (to use President Duterte’s term) taking place within the party. Two factions are duking it out—one led by no less than the chairman President Duterte and his “newly-appointed” party president Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi; and the other led by Sen. Koko Pimentel, the son of PDP-Laban founder the late Senate president Aquilino Pimentel, and the “other” party president Sen. Manny Pacquiao.
The metaphor of the new arrivals usurping the PDP-Laban’s home is rooted in the lead-in to the 2016 elections when candidate Rodrigo Duterte needed to take shelter under the roof of a national political party to run for president. When he won the presidency, supporters and politicians in search of a patron then flocked to the PDP-Laban. His win, the President claims, “resurrected” a dying party, transforming it from one that could fit inside a jeepney to what it is now: the ruling party with the biggest number of supporters in and out of government.
Of course, this is nothing new in the annals of Philippine political history. Ever since the Republic was founded, politicians have shifted their loyalties, beliefs, and even behavior to align with whoever holds the reins of power. The infighting within PDP-Laban, which was founded in 1982 as an anti-Marcos dictatorship vehicle, is actually a proxy fight between Pacquiao, who has made no bones about his presidential ambitions, and the Dutertes. There are moves to draft Sara Duterte-Carpio, currently mayor of Davao City, for president, and her father who has said he is “considering” running for vice president. At this point, Sara is playing coy, even if she is going around the country “consulting” local leaders. Her father meanwhile has admitted that winning as VP is tempting as a way to avoid future prosecution.
Pimentel and Pacquiao have admitted to hurt feelings in the wake of the betrayal of their supposed allies and the hijacking of the political party that, Pimentel lamented, he had devoted the last 30 years of his life to nurturing and strengthening.
So why did he and party leaders let Mr. Duterte et al. into their political home in 2016? Because, Pimentel admitted, the then-candidate had promised to champion the PDP-Laban’s pet cause: federalism. But though Mr. Duterte talked a good talk about setting in motion that shift in government to bestow more autonomy and power to the provinces, the President has since publicly given up on the plan. And now he has taken to belittling the Pimentels’ efforts on behalf of PDP-Laban, saying they “are not even recognized” in their bailiwick of Cagayan de Oro and if Koko Pimentel were to run even as barangay captain, “talo ‘yan sa kanila.”
But Pimentel’s “sadness” about the abandonment of the promise of federalism and the insults heaped on him and his late father is small potatoes compared to the drubbing Pacquiao has been receiving while in the US preparing for a boxing match. The President has derided him as someone who “does not know anything,” who does not read and simply follows what others tell him to do and say—after Pacquiao had spent the last five years as a mouthpiece and cheerleader of the administration’s policies, and sometimes its attack dog as in his move in 2017 to strip opposition colleagues in the Senate of committee chairmanships.
Still, in the wake of such a massive and cruel betrayal, Pimentel and Pacquiao are still tiptoeing around the President. They take care to raise issues like “corruption” but only cite the wrongdoing of subalterns. Publicly, they declare their continuing support for and loyalty to the President.
Perhaps they are aware of the robust popularity that Mr. Duterte still wields among his followers, and the President’s penchant for going for the jugular in word and deed against those who cross him. But in their heart of hearts they must now rue how the leader they had uncritically served and celebrated has turned against them, showing no compunction to shove aside erstwhile friends and employ fair means and foul to get his way. In joining the ranks of other Duterte believers eventually cast out—the Left, Pantaleon Alvarez, Alan Peter Cayetano—Pimentel, Pacquiao, and their supporters are being rudely reminded of American politician William Clay’s deathless observation: “This is quite a game, politics. There are no permanent enemies, and no permanent friends, only permanent interests.”
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