MANILA - In a display of unity amid controversies, the ruling PDP-Laban’s top officials gathered during the first anniversary celebration of the party’s humanitarian arm, PDP Cares.
President Rodrigo Duterte led the event with the party’s national president, Senator Koko Pimentel, and secretary-general, Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez.
Also present were PDP-Laban Vice Chairman, Energy Sec. Alfonso Cusi, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Karlo Nograles, and House Committee on Ways and Means Chair Rep. Dakila Cua.
Duterte, in his 4-minute speech, stressed the importance of solidarity as his administration pushes for reforms, including the shift to a federal form of government.
"As we [undergo] reforms in this administration, our unity is now more important than ever," Duterte said, sticking to his prepared speech.
"Let us remain committed to the party’s vision of liberating our people from the clutches of poverty, conflict, crime, illegal drugs and corruption through the promotion of justice, equality, and good governance," he added.
The President also rallied support for federalism, which is now facing scrutiny.
"Let us become instruments of real change in society by advancing the PDP-Laban’s core agenda of federalism," Duterte said.
The PDP-Laban, the party that became Duterte’s vehicle to the presidency, has been divided into factions, one led by Senator Aquilino Pimentel III and the other by Rogelio Garcia.
Garcia’s faction complained that his group has been marginalized by the more prominent members of the party. His group also lamented that the Pimentel-led faction of violating the party’s rules by holding mass oath-taking of new party members who did not undergo seminar.
The rift between the two factions widened after the Garcia faction elected new party officers last July 27.
Pimentel said there is only one way to iron out the issue with Garcia.
“For that group to stop thinking that they are the leaders of the party because they are not. Sa aming normal leadership, wala kaming faction na nakikita. If you are a non-member, how can you hijack a party by holding an event and calling for a press conference and electing yourself. Hindi puwede po 'yun,” he said.
Garcia’s faction has also been open to the idea of aligning itself with Hugpong ng Pagbabago, the regional political party of Duterte’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.
Alvarez, during the PDP-Laban event, called on members to continue supporting the party.
“This commitment to continue caring is the clearest proof that we as a party remains strong as ever. Your presence here tonight is the best exhibit of our united front,” he said.
In an ambush interview, Alvarez denied that his relationship with the President has been scarred by the alleged involvement of Duterte-Carpio in his ouster as House Speaker.
“Wala namang pagbabago. Kung paano kami mag-usap noon, ganun pa rin ngayon. Sabi ko nga, tapos na 'yung yugto na 'yan. Let’s move on. Hindi na makakabuti sa atin kung balikan pa natin ang nangyari,” he said.
Alvarez and Pimentel, meanwhile, shrugged off reports that the President will also be gracing the upcoming event of Hugpong ng Pagbabago.
“Ok naman. Kasi kung lahat naman ay suporta para sa ating Pangulo, so talagang welcome naman lahat,” Alvarez said.
“Ok lang naman kami. Ang PDP naman sanay sa tricycle party or motorcycle party. Kahit tatatlo ok lang,” he added.
“It does not affect us. It does not raise any issue. We allow membership in a national party and simultaneous membership in a regional party like Hugpong,” Pimentel said.
“Some of our members are planning to join Hugpong and they will not lose their party membership kasi it is a regional party,” he added.
Next month, PDP Laban members are scheduled to meet to nominate candidates for the 2019 elections. Pimentel said the party could name its senatorial lineup then.
He is confident that the President recognizes his group as the “legitimate” PDP Laban leaders, and that Duterte will support PDP candidates over those endorsed by his daughter’s party.
“Being the chairman of the party, I expect that the President will help support the candidates of the party. Sinabi naman niya 'yun eh. In the meeting in the hotel. Ang sabi niya, I’m duty bound to campaign for the party’s candidates,” Pimentel said.
As of Wednesday, Pimentel said PDP-Laban remains strong in numbers, with only one congressman from Davao Occidental formally resigning from the party.