MANILA — The PDP-Laban will be left with a "jeepney load" of members if it ousts its chairman President Rodrigo Duterte, his spokesman said on Wednesday, as a rift in the party festered over his plans to run for a lower post in the 2022 elections.
A party official earlier this week warned Duterte could be expelled from the party if he accepts his unauthorized endorsement as a candidate for vice president in 2022.
"Alam naman po natin, halos wala namang miyembro po ang PDP-Laban bago naging presidente si Pangulong Duterte. Hindi ko po alam kung anong, saan nanggagaling ‘yang ganyang salita ng PDP-Laban," said his spokesman Harry Roque.
(We know that the PDP-Laban had almost no members before President Duterte was elected. I do not know where that remark of the PDP-Laban is coming from.)
"Isang jeepney lang po ang PDP-Laban bago po sumali d’yan si Presidente Duterte. Kung alisan n’yo po si Presidente sa PDP-Laban, balik kayo sa isang jeepney," he said in a press briefing.
(The membership of PDP-Laban was down to a jeep load before President Duterte joined it. If you remove President Duterte from PDP-Laban, you will go back to a jeep load.)
He said Duterte could run as vice president with or without any party.
The PDP-Laban last week expelled 3 officials, including its vice chairman Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, who was among those who has pushed Duterte to run as vice president—a possible candidacy Sen. Manny Pacquiao, the party president, has rejected.
Duterte "recognizes" Cusi's leadership of PDP-Laban and will attend a July 17 meeting that the latter would preside over. Pacquiao's camp has urged members to refrain from attending this.
Once a close ally of Duterte, Pacquiao in late June drew the President's ire after saying the current administration was supposedly three times more corrupt than its predecessors.
Duterte, who ran on an anti-crime and corruption platform in 2016, rejected the accusation and threatened to expose Pacquiao as a "liar" if he failed to prove his corruption claim.
Duterte's administration has been dogged by scandals and allegations of graft and cover-ups in state agencies ranging from prisons, the state insurer, immigration, airports and customs, to police and the drugs enforcement agency, few of which led to convictions or high-profile resignations.
Despite these scandals and criticism of killings under his drug war, Duterte remains popular.
He and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno are the top choices for vice president in next year’s elections, according to a Pulse Asia survey released on Tuesday. The President's daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio is the leading bet for president.
"Iyan po ay nagpapakita na kahit ano pa ang ipukol ng mga kritiko ni Presidente laban sa kaniya ay patuloy pa rin pong nagtitiwala at naniniwala ang sambayanang Pilipino sa liderato po ni Presidente Rodrigo Roa Duterte," said Roque.
(That shows that no matter what critics hurl against the President, the Filipino public continues to trust and believe in his leadership.)
But for Christian Monsod, a lawyer and one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, Duterte is trying to circumvent the single 6-year presidential term limit set by the constitution to stop power from being abused.
A former election commission chief, Monsod suspects Duterte was asked by allies to choose a running mate to campaign with to help the candidate win the presidency. That president would then step down, allowing Duterte to reassume the post.
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 vendetta is 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 drug 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."
Roque, a lawyer, says "there is no legal impediment" against Duterte's possible vice presidential bid.
"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 last week.
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 Reuters