PDP-Laban: No longer in touch with its legacy

THE INFIGHTING within the party which carried him to the presidency ended with Rodrigo Duterte bragging about how he had given new life to a dormant Partido Demokratiko Pilipino – Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban). The occasion was the party’s national assembly held on Saturday July 17, when he slammed Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, the son of one of the party’s founders, the late Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel. The party decided to oust the younger Pimentel as the party’s executive chair together with the party’s titular head, boxing champion, Senator Manuel Pacquiao. 

In a political arena where political affiliations have long lost meaning, Duterte’s statement reflects a reality: parties come alive only when an election comes along. The Davao city mayor seeking high office had no such party to carry him as a presidential candidate in 2016, until PDP-Laban recognized him as its guest candidate. Nearing the end of its term, he belittled with insults what he called a “father and son party. . .and they are not even recognized in CDO.” The president went on to say that the party was “asleep for a hundred years,” only waking up when he ran as its standard bearer in the 2016 polls.

While establishing his control over its present members, Duterte may have never appreciated the PDP-Laban’s political legacy. 

The founder of the PDP was a stalwart critic of Ferdinand Marcos. A lone local politician to challenge the hold of Marcos over all regional governments, Aquilino Pimentel Jr. won as mayor in Cagayan de Oro in 1980. Political maneuvering in the Comelec prevented Nene Pimentel from taking office and caused him to be arrested and detained in jail; which quickly drew his supporters out in the streets. In 1984, Pimentel won a seat as Assemblyman in the Batasang Pambansa and went on to gain enough national following to become part of the rainbow coalition that supported Corazon Aquino to challenge the dictatorship. 

All that history is lost in the current state of political affairs except for the strikingly bitter irony. 

Founding and early history

PDP-Laban began as a marriage between two parties–Partido Demokratiko Pilipino (PDP) and Lakas ng Bayan (Laban).

Laban was formed by Marcos critic and opposition leader, democracy icon Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. His allies included a list of eminent political freedom fighters,  Lorenzo Tanada, Jose Diokno and Raul Manglapus, among others who made up the ticket for seats at the Interim Batasang Pambansa in 1978. While in a period of highly restrictive police surveillance and street patrols, a city-wide noise barrage resounded for hours to support Laban candidates. 

PDP was founded later on February 6, 1982, by Nene Pimentel and a slew of protesters against Marcos’ authoritarian government; 

In 1986, the two groups merged to form PDP–Laban and moved strategically to participate when Marcos called a “snap election” to prove to the international community the credibility of his leadership. The party backed Corazon “Cory” Aquino, the widow of the assassinated senator Ninoy Aquino as their candidate for president. 

To broaden the political front, Cory decided to run as the United Nationalist Democratic Organization’s official candidate (Unido) to include other politicians outside the PDP-Laban. PDP-Laban aligned with Unido constituted a powerful coalition in support of democratic restoration. 

Following the February 1986 snap election, the Batasang Pambansa declared Marcos and his running mate, Arturo Tolentino as winners, prompting charges of electoral fraud and Aquino’s call for widespread civil disobedience. The historic People Power Revolution, a nonviolent mass demonstration movement took place from February 22 to 25. On the last day, the People Power Revolution, aided by defectors from the military and backing from the Catholic Church, succeeded in deposing Marcos and securing Cory’s accession to the presidency.

With Cory, the country’s first female president in power, the PDP-Laban became the most prominent political party in the country at the time.

Party infighting

Today, PDP-Laban’s storied past has been reduced to petty fights among pro-admin officials over control of the ruling party’s machinery and influence.

Currently there are two opposing factions; one led by the party chairman, President Rodrigo Duterte, and the other by the party president, Senator Manny Pacquiao.  Both Mindanao politicians eyed the chain of accession to power through the PDP-Laban, which finally caused them to have a political confrontation. 

Duterte’s camp wants him to run for Vice President and pick his standard bearer — a tactic to stay in power that no other president had tried. Obviously, the idea did not sit well with other factions in the party, the camp led by Pacquiao. 

The issue has been blown out of proportion. Both Duterte’s and Pacquiao’s camps are now involving Comelec in the decision of which PDP-Laban faction is legitimate. It’s likely that the case will be taken all the way to the Supreme Court.

Party founder Nene Pimentel may have foreseen the problems that could arise from a large membership based only on political expediency. Following the party’s expansion back in 2016, he urged older members to question the motivations of incoming members to ensure they are still committed to the party’s ideals. 

For the record, PDP-Laban describes itself as a party seeking a peaceful and democratic way of life characterized by “freedom, solidarity, justice, equity, social responsibility, self-reliance, efficiency and enlightened nationalism.”