MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte "recognizes" Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi's leadership of the PDP-Laban, Malacañang said on Monday, despite the latter's expulsion from their political party following a feud with fellow stalwart Sen. Emmanuel Pacquiao.
Cusi and 2 other officials were expelled from PDP-Laban last week, just days after the Energy chief urged Duterte to run for vice president—a possible candidacy that Pacquiao, the party's president, has rejected.
"All I can say is what the President has said on the matter. We will resolve all existing disputes within PDP-Laban legally," said Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque.
Duterte will attend the July 17 PDP-Laban National Assembly led by Cusi, said Roque. Pacquiao's camp earlier said the event was "unauthorized."
"All I can say is he (Duterte) recognizes the leadership of Secretary Cusi and that is why he will attend the party special meeting on July 17," Roque said in a press briefing.
Asked if the President recognizes Cusi's expulsion, his spokesman said, "Mukhang hindi po dahil planong mag-attend ni Presidente ng PDP-Laban meeting sa 17."
(It doesn't appear that way because the President plans to attend the meeting on the 17th.)
Duterte and Pacquiao, once close allies, figured in a surprise word war in late June after the President threatened to expose the boxing superstar-turned-senator as a liar, if the latter failed to prove his claim that the current administration is supposedly thrice more corrupt that its predecessors.
Pacquiao previously criticized Duterte's foreign policy, rejected his potential vice presidency, and asked the President's daughter Davao Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio to seek replacing her father in 2022.
In a meeting with Cusi and other allies last week, Duterte, who is PDP-Laban chairman, said he was slight "sold" to the idea of running for vice president and picking his running mate.
TO RUN OR NOT TO RUN?
Temario Rivera, head of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, said Duterte's motivation to remain in power is obvious - to avoid jail and courtrooms.
Political vendettas are common in the Philippines and former leaders, minus their immunity of office, have been prosecuted and even jailed after changes in power.
"The question facing him is what is the best strategy to deal with that existential problem," Rivera said.
Duterte has repeatedly baited the International Criminal Court (ICC) and dared it to put him on trial for crimes against humanity. The ICC's prosecutor has since sought the go-ahead to launch a formal investigation into the drugs war killings.
"The strategy for Duterte is to make sure that the opposition does not win," Rivera said.
"The ICC can now proceed with their investigation in a clearer manner if you have an opposition president in power."
"There is no legal impediment" against Duterte's possible vice presidential bid, Roque said last week.
The constitution states the President shall not be eligible for any re-election. "President Duterte is not running for the same office and same position," said Roque, a lawyer.
"A careful reading of the Constitution would reveal that there is no expressed prohibition for the sitting President to run for a lower public office position," he said in a statement.
"Under the plain meaning rule or verba legis, if the statute is clear, plain and free from ambiguity, it must be given its literal meaning and applied without interpretation."
Groups challenging the legality of Duterte’s vice-presidential bid to "may rightfully do so as long as they have the legal standing," said Roque.
"However, it is is still premature considering the President has not made up his mind and filed his certificate of candidacy," he added.
— With reports from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News; Reuters