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PDP-Laban: From fighting dictatorship to fighting each other

By: - Content Researcher Writer / @CeBacligINQ
/ 06:11 PM July 16, 2021

PDP-Laban leaders during one of their assemblies. FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—The entire party membership can fit inside a Volkswagen Beetle.

This was how a former foreign affairs secretary described the now ruling party, the Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino-Laban ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), according to ex-Vice President Jejomar Binay.

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“The late Blas Ople once called PDP-Laban a Volkswagen party because its members, all accounted for, could fit inside the tiny car,” Binay, who was once the party’s chair, said way back 2011. Ople was foreign affairs chief during the Estrada administration.

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“Our party is a party to be reckoned with. We are in the process of increasing our membership. If four people can fit in…

Posted by PDP Laban on Friday, January 20, 2012

The following year, Binay was quoted in the party’s official Facebook page as saying: “Our party is a party to be reckoned with. We are in the process of increasing our membership.”

“If four people can fit in a Volkswagen Beetle, you have to multiply that 100,000 times. Probably we now have 50,000 members nationwide,” he added.

Graphic by Ed Lustan

Although he later resigned and left the party in 2016, Binay’s prediction on the greatly diminished party’s future was spot-on as its presidential candidate, Rodrigo Duterte, won and took the country’s top elective position.

While PDP-Laban peaked again, like in its early years, recent events point to another period of factionalism and conflicts inside the political party that was born during the darkness of the Marcos years.

What went before

PDP-Laban was the result of the marriage between two political parties — Partido Demokratiko Pilipino (PDP) founded by the late Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. and Lakas ng Bayan (Laban) established by the then imprisoned Sen. Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino Jr. in the late 1970s.

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Graphic by Ed Lustan

The two parties, both formed at the apex of the Marcos dictatorship, were led by notable opposition leaders and political activists aside from Pimentel and Aquino.

Laban party, constituted in 1978, was also founded by former Sen. Lorenzo Tañada. Among its list of prominent members were the late Neptali Gonzales, Teofisto Guingona Jr., Francisco Rodrigo, and Alex Boncayao.

On the other hand, PDP, which was composed of anti-dictatorship figures from Mindanao, was inaugurated as a national party in its first national convention held at Club Filipino in Cebu City in 1982.

Tañada was elected as honorary chair of the newly formed coalition. The group became active and a constant presence in rallies against the Marcos dictatorship.

Prior to Aquino’s assassination in 1981, the coalition described its activities as “fruitful and meaningful … because it was during this year when the party expanded very rapidly all over the country.”

Aquino’s murder put the party at the center of mass actions against Marcos’ strongman rule.

In 1986, the two parties formally merged to form PDP-Laban. It nominated Aquino’s widow, Corazon (Cory) Aquino, to run for president under the PDP-Laban banner in the snap presidential election against Ferdinand Marcos.

In the end, Cory chose to run as the official nominee of the United Nationalist Democratic Organization (Unido), her running mate Salvador Laurel’s political party, as part of a unification deal.

Still, the PDP-Laban formed an alliance with Unido and became a strong coalition that opposed the late dictator. The alliance lasted until 1987.

As Aquino rose to power, PDP-Laban became the most formidable political party at the time—and helped two of its top officials in their political careers.

Binay, known as a human rights lawyer during the martial law years, was appointed by Aquino as the officer in charge of Makati City.

Meanwhile, Pimentel became Minister of Local Government.

Through the years, the party, including its officers and members, have seen numerous ups and downs.

New names

Following the May 2016 elections, PDP-Laban regained its popularity and slowly grew bigger as several legislators joined the party — and fulfilled the prophecy made years ago by Binay.

In May 2017, 10 lawmakers have jumped ship to the ruling party. Five of those were from the Liberal Party which had been dominant under the administration of the late Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III.

Among those who took their oaths as PDP-Laban members before then Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, ex-secretary general of the PDP-Laban, were:

  • Bataan Rep. Geraldine Roman — the country’s first transgender congresswoman
  • Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas — former television and movie actor
  • Lanao del Sur Rep. Ansaruddin Adiong
  • Then-North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco
  • Then-Quezon City Rep. Winstton Castelo

Two were from Nacionalista Party—Sulu Rep. Munir Arbison and late Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III. Another two lawmakers—Zamboanga del Sur Rep. Divina Grace Yu and former Masbate Rep. Scott Davies Lanete—were from the Nationalist People’s Coalition and Camiguin Rep. Xavier Jesus Romualdo from Lakas completed the list.

The shakeup in the House of Representatives brought the hold of PDP-Laban to 121.

4 LP lawmakers move to PDP Laban

A year later, Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III—who was then the Senate president—said that the party has expanded with 300,000 members, no longer fit in a Volkswagen Beetle.

300,000 politicians have jumped ship to PDP-Laban, says Pimentel

The party continued to welcome new members from other groups in the current 18th Congress.

As members jump ship, PDP-Laban gathers to boost party unity

Rifts and splits

The current war of words between the party’s top officials—Duterte, current PDP-Laban chair and Sen. Manny Pacquiao, acting president of the party—isn’t new to the party.

READ: As Duterte-Pacquiao rift widens, ruling party’s future hangs in the balance

During the past years, the party has seen several internal conflicts which eventually led to the emergence of several factions.

In 1988, prior to the local elections, the elder Pimentel as well as some senators questioned the party’s acceptance as members of individuals from Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL), a party formed by the late dictator Marcos to keep himself in power.

That same year, two factions emerged within PDP-Laban: the Pimentel Wing and Cojuangco Wing which was led by Jose Cojuangco Jr., brother of the late President Corazon Aquino.

Cojuangco eventually merged with the Lakas ng Bayan party of the late Speaker Ramon Mitra, Jr. and formed the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) party when Cory endorsed Fidel Ramos as her successor instead of Mitra.

Fast forward to 2016, when Binay left PDP-Laban over several issues.

“In the Senate, we have a member from the majority party and another from the minority party. In order that this disunity would not further worsen, I have to consider that it’s time perhaps to move on,” Binay said in Filipino in a television interview then.

The then-vice president was referring to the younger Pimentel who was in the Senate majority and his daughter Nancy who belonged to the opposition bloc.

In 2018, Pampanga Representative and PDP-Laban member Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took her oath as Speaker minutes before Duterte’s Sona and as another PDP-Laban member, Pantaleon Alvarez, whom Arroyo ousted as Speaker, welcomed the President at the House.

With House sound system dead, Arroyo takes oath as new Speaker

The move further caused friction in PDP-Laban with some members loyal to Alvarez supporting a move to leave the party.

Another faction emerged and held an assembly to oust PDP-Laban leaders, including the younger Pimentel, and retained only Duterte as party chair.

With House sound system dead, Arroyo takes oath as new Speaker

The conflict dragged on and in November that year, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) declared Pimentel’s group as the “legitimate” officers of PDP-Laban.

Comelec declares Pimentel’s group as the ‘legitimate’ PDP Laban

Weakened party, split priorities

While the current rift is not new in the party’s history, the bickering might have an impact on the group’s sphere of influence.

If the infighting escalates, political analyst Ramon Casiple said it can “weaken the party and possibly lead members to separate camps.”

With its motto, “Pilipinas Dapat sa Pilipino (Philippines for Filipinos)”, among the PDP-Laban’s five basic principles was to place national interest above all else.

The current escalating tension between the party’s two most popular figures—Duterte and Pacquiao—is casting a shadow over PDP-Laban’s future as did quarrels in the past over who really represented the party.

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