MANILA - Senators Ronald Dela Rosa and Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III on Monday said they will skip PDP-Laban's meeting in Cebu, citing their workload in the legislative chamber.
PDP-Laban acting President Manny Pacquaio earlier ordered his party-mates to "ignore" the meeting in Cebu, which was organized by party vice chair and Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi. Malacañang noted that party chair President Rodrigo Duterte sanctioned the gathering.
"I am very busy today with legis work. Priorities muna. Saka na politika. Work muna," Pimentel told ABS-CBN News in a text message.
(I am very busy with legislative work. Priorities first. Politics can come later. We have to work.)
Pimentel, whose father - former Sen. Aquilino "Nene" Pimentel Jr. - founded the party, declined to comment about the rift within the ruling party.
"No statement on politics. Let me finish my work first," he said.
Dela Rosa said he would not fly to Cebu as he needs to attend the Senate's session this afternoon.
"Everyone in the party is hoping that we can be united once again and field a single ticket," Dela Rosa said in a separate text message.
Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go has yet to respond to queries if he would also skip the party assembly in Cebu.
Tensions between Pacquiao and Cusi's bloc started earlier this year when the senator accused the Energy secretary of gathering party members' signatures to urge President Duterte to run for vice president in the 2022 national elections.
"Hindi legitimate 'yung resolution na ginawa. Nalaman ko lang 'yun dahil sinabi sa'kin ng tao ko," Pacquiao said in a press conference in March.
(The resolution is illegitimate. I only knew about it because one of my staff told me.)
"Hindi ko alam 'yun. Hindi 'yun sanctioned as acting president ng partido," he said.
(I did not know about it. It was not sanctioned [by me] as acting party president.)
Despite this, Pacquiao denied that there is a rift within the ruling party months before the filing of candidacies, saying the leadership has been communicating with its members "from time to time."
But PDP-Laban secretary-general Melvin Matibag said the national council assembly in Cebu was requested by party members so that they can decide if they should replace Pacquiao as party president.
The council is composed of around 170 PDP-Laban members currently serving as senators, congressmen, governors, and cabinet members.
Pacquiao only became "acting president" through an "appointment" without any party consultation, Matibag told ABS-CBN News last week.
"Kasi 'yung pagpasa ni Sen. Koko Pimentel kay Pacquiao ay hindi maliwanag sa leadership eh, sa mga members kung paano naging acting president si Senator Pacquiao," Matibag said.
(How Sen. Koko Pimentel passed the position for Pacquiao to become acting president remains unclear to the leadership and the members.)
The party council will also discuss in the Cebu meeting PDP-Laban's standard bearer for the 2022 national elections, he said.
Pacquiao earlier hinted that he would vie for the presidency next year, but Duterte - in a public speech - said Sen. Go also wants to succeed him in Malacañang.
Go denied Duterte's claim, but said he might change his mind if the former Davao City mayor would agree to run as his vice president in the upcoming polls.
This is not the first time infighting became an issue for PDP-Laban months before an election.
In 2018, several party members from Mindanao held an event at the Quezon Memorial Circle criticizing then PDP-Laban Secretary General Pantaleon Alvarez.
The group, led by PDP-Laban national council chair Rogelio Garcia, slammed Alvarez for leading the mass-oath taking of new party members without complying with the application process.
Old party members were not invited to PDP-Laban's 36th anniversary celebration at a hotel in Makati City, Garcia added.
The group issued a resolution declaring Alvarez persona non grata from the party, but then-party president Pimentel denied that PDP-Laban had made such a declaration.
In 2019, Alvarez accused the ruling party of keeping him in the dark about its decision to back Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco's bid for the House Speakership, which he was also vying for.
Alvarez was hoping to make a comeback as Speaker after he was ousted from the post in 2018 in a coup maneuvered by the President's daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte. Then Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was installed in his place.
Alvarez eventually left the party.