MANILA -- The rift within President Rodrigo Duterte’s party may force the likes of Sen. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, Christopher "Bong" Go, and Ronald Dela Rosa to run as independent senatorial candidates, the leader of a PDP-Laban faction said Friday.
Lawyer Rogelio Garcia said Thursday he was confident that the Commission on Elections would favor his faction over the group headed by Pimentel, who is seeking reelection under PDP-Laban.
An unfavorable decision against the Pimentel group will mean that the certificates of nomination and acceptance (CONA) it had issued to candidates would be invalid, Garcia said.
Under the rules, such candidates will be considered as an independent.
“One must win, one must lose,” Garcia told ABS-CBN News. “We believe we have the stronger side because we are compliant with the bylaws of the party.”
Pimentel dismissed the scenario floated by Garcia, saying: “Too many assumptions which are wrong. Why should it be us who will be declared independents when it is Bicbic Garcia and his group who are the impostors?”
Garcia was elected national president by a PDP-Laban faction during a party assembly described by Pimentel as "rogue" last July.
The Comelec is now trying to determine which faction is legitimate, given the implications on the status of nominees for next year’s midterm elections.
"We will be handling this case with the same gravity that we would with the same seriousness and urgency as if it were any other political party," Comelec spokesman James Jimenez told ABS-CBN News.
Go and Dela Rosa filed their certificates of candidacy using CONAs from the Pimentel group.
Singer Freddie Aguilar got his CONA for his senatorial candidacy from the Garcia faction but only because it was issued by the group’s supposed secretary general Willy Talag.
"Apparently, now he is a candidate of our faction," Garcia said. "Wala tayong magawa. Nandun na e."
Jimenez said resolving the PDP-Laban’s internal rift was "very crucial" because it would determine if certain nominees would end up as independent candidates.
While independent candidates are allowed to spend more at P5 per registered voter, he said they would not enjoy campaign resources from a political party and lose the option to be substituted.
"Depending on the other circumstances, the question becomes — can you actually campaign if you’re running alone? You’re not running as part of a bigger group," Jimenez said.
"So it is very significant whether or not your CONA turns out to be valid or invalid."
Garcia said his faction would be willing to "adopt" Go and Dela Rosa—but not Pimentel—as its senatorial candidates in case the Comelec upheld its legitimacy.
"Our group believes that he cannot run because he’s already disqualified," Garcia said, noting that Pimentel assumed the Senate post in 2011 following a successful electoral protest.
Pimentel, who was reelected in 2013, earlier insisted the initial term should not be counted as his first and he could still run for senator next year.