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By Pablo Joaquin

It’s official: the gentleman from Sarangani is now set to face the southpaw from Long Island, New York. And while indeed this upcoming fight in Las Vegas is going to be a national affair (as with all matches of the Boxer turned Senator Manny Pacquiao), there is, however, another tussle brewing that’s more consequential for both the Pac-Man and the Filipino people: Duterte v. Pacquiao.

Just recently, the Mindanaoan from Malacañang, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, has been all-out in his verbal offensives against Sen. Pacquiao. Left and right, PRRD didn’t hold back in taking jabs at Sen. Pacquiao, declaring him a liar and, more explicitly, a shit – all the while the Filipino public was sitting front-seat to witness this political skirmish.

The cracks of the Duterte-Pacquiao alliance began to emerge as early as March when a draft of a petition signed by 20 unnamed members of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) urging PRRD to run for Vice President was released to the media.

As a response, PDP-Laban President Sen. Pacquiao (who is rumored to gun for the Presidency in 2022) together with Executive Vice Chair Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III slammed the petition, saying that the draft was not authorized and that Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi – one of the alleged proponents of the initiative – should cease in poisoning the minds of their party-mates and that a pandemic is no time for politicking.

Soon after, in May, Sec. Cusi announced that the party is set to have a National Assembly in Cebu later that month – a convention that Sen. Pacquiao urged the members of PDP-Laban to ignore because of it being “against party rules” and focus instead on the pandemic. Malacañan Spokesperson Harry Roque later revealed that PRRD himself directed Cusi to convene the assembly.

Entering June, reports of special operations to remove Sen. Pacquiao as PDP-Laban’s President began to surface. According to one report, a faction associated with Sec. Cusi has started to deploy campaigns to lobby fellow members to support said ouster. According to PDP-Laban Cagayan de Oro President Marlo Tabac, these efforts are more apparent in Northern Mindanao – describing the affair as a division between the Pacquiao Loyalists and the ‘Run Sara Run’ movement within the party (a faction that’s also advocating for a Duterte-Duterte tandem).

Tensions between the two Mindanao heavyweights escalated in June when Sen. Pacquiao, in an interview with Radyo 5, said that declaring a war against corruption was much more imperative than a war on illegal drugs. In retaliation, PRRD dared the Senator to name these alleged corrupt officials or else he would campaign against the boxing legend.

The situation didn’t become any better when just recently, a viral video of the Senator started making its rounds in social media. In the said video, Pacquiao declared that, compared to the previous Aquino administration, corruption under PRRD’s watch doubled and that Pacquiao cannot stomach the ‘practice.’ During this time, PRRD doubled down on his attacks against Sen. Pacquiao, launching tirades about the latter’s motives for 2022, absenteeism in Congress, and his supposed backing-out of his fight with Errol Spence.

These developments, however, are symptomatic of a much larger movement within PDP-Laban to allegedly hijack the party from its original brass. With a glimpse of this internal party struggle rearing its head in 2018 until 2019 when Sen. Pimentel – a longtime leader of the party and son of party founder former Senator Nene Pimentel – battled with infighting amongst PDP-Laban’s ranks when a partisan coup, led by Rogelio Garcia, attempted to boot Sen. Pimentel and former Speaker of the House Pantaleon Alvarez from their leadership positions; a case that was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court in favor of Pimentel. This preservation of PDP-Laban’s old guards continues to be challenged with Sen. Pimentel continuing to support Sen. Pacquiao’s faction. However, joining Rep. Alvarez’ Partido Reporma (PR) might be a possibility that both Pacquiao and Pimentel - if booted out of PDP-Laban - may explore if they do not succeed in defending their control over the party. PR has recently floated the prospect of fielding their own presidential ticket for the 2022 polls.

Because of the growing rift developing within PDP-Laban, the Liberal Party – independent of the 1Sambayan Coalition – has started entertaining the possibility of accommodating and endorsing Sen. Pacquiao (among other choices) as their presidential candidate. In a recent interview, LP Sen. Franklin Drilon revealed that the Liberals are not closing its doors on the possible adoption of Sen. Pacquiao if he is ousted from PRRD’s party; a position that might be in response of Robredo possibly not running in 2022 which may be because of her dismal numbers in the pre-election surveys and, as a result, is speculated to give way to a candidate that has more chances of winning in the upcoming national elections.

In addition, Senate President Vicente Sotto III bared that Sen. Pacquiao is among the possible candidates for the Nationalist People’s Coalition’s presidential ticket. Pacquiao – an adopted member of the Senate’s macho bloc together Sen. Sotto and former Sen. Honasan – has reportedly asked Senator Ping Lacson (also a member of the macho bloc) to be his running mate in the 2022 polls – a tandem that would be the most likely for the boxer-senator.

The power struggle is projected to reach its climax on the 17th of July as PDP-Laban is set to hold its national assembly, with the expected agenda being Sen. Pacquiao’s ouster together with the marginalization of his faction in the party. This supposed partisan coup might be a manifestation of PRRD’s faction – a faction (including the President) that originally was not a member of PDP-Laban until 2016 – consolidating control over the party in order to be more effective in deploying their plans for 2022 – insulating such plans from any objections by PDP-Laban’s original personalities. These plans may include the installation of Sara Duterte (who is not a member of PDP-Laban and instead is from Hugpong ng Pagbabago) as the party’s standard bearer - a power-grab that Sen. Pimentel himself has recognized as an attempt by supposed rogue members to gift PDP-Laban’s nomination to a party outsider.

Whatever the outcome might be, one thing is clear: Pacquiao, even if he regains relative control of his party, will not enjoy the same mandate from PDP-Laban’s base as he did when he was installed as its President.

Perhaps this is, by design, democracy at work. Whenever a regular opportunity to broker power (like an election) presents itself, the powers that be – no matter how sturdily planted – will always be looking over their shoulders. Like the boxing champions that Pacquiao successfully overthrew, there will always be opponents contending for the throne; except this time, it’s the Pac-Man’s influence over his party that’s being challenged. And that my friends is the reason why our sad nation still has a shot at salvation: opposition.

Ready to rumble in 2022? I sure as hell am.

Pablo Joaquín is a writer, music producer, decorated debate coach, humanitarian, and a political development strategist. He was the youngest to have ever worked for the United Nations Philippines and formerly the head coach of the San Beda Debate Team and the national chairperson of the Students Rights and Welfare Philippines (STRAW PH).

He is a political contributor for Now You Know PH and an arts & lifestyle writer for Canto Philippines. Currently working for a political consultancy, he is also finishing his undergraduate degree in Development Studies, Minor in Sports Studies in De La Salle University - Manila under a Junior Debate Scholarship.

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