Cusi named as new PDP-Laban president in Duterte-led assembly; Pacquiao faction questions legality

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 17)— Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi was named as the new president of ruling party PDP-Laban during a national assembly on Saturday.

Cusi, the party’s former vice chairman, and other newly-elected officers took their oath before chairman President Rodrigo Duterte, who graced the event held in Clark, Pampanga.

The other appointed officials are as follows:

The PDP-Laban national council opened the nominations for a fresh batch of officers during its meeting on Friday, a move earlier seen to unseat Senator Manny Pacquiao from his post as party president.

The assembly declared all national positions vacant as the period of nomination wrapped up on Saturday morning.

Pacquiao faction won’t recognize assembly

Pacquiao’s faction, however, refused to recognize the assembly and labeled the elections illegal.

“Thousands of bona fide and original grassroots members of PDP-Laban strongly denounced personalities (party officials) who are behind the party’s purported national assembly in Clark, Pampanga and described the election of its new officers as a farce, illegal and not sanctioned by the general membership,” the group said in a statement.

Senator Koko Pimentel, son of the party's co-founder Nene Pimentel, Jr., echoed the sentiment, saying the “existing leadership” will continue to carry out its work for the party.

“Since Sec Cusi wants to be a stickler for rules then he should follow all the rules of the party. You cannot make attendees to a PDP-Laban party assembly instant members of the party on the spot,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel earlier pointed out that the recent PDP-Laban activities are invalid even with Duterte in attendance, as they are "clearly violative" of the party's constitution. He cited how Pacquiao was not involved in the events’ agenda.

In a separate statement, Pacquiao also called out the Duterte-backed PDP-Laban body for prioritizing politics over the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with the new threat of the Delta variant.

Kung sa tingin nila Cusi at iba pa na mas importante ang pulitika sa ngayon, bahala na sila,” the boxer-turned-senator said. "Sa huli, isa lang naman ang tanong na dapat sagutin. Sino ba ang sasamahan ng taong bayan?”

[Translation: If Cusi and the others think that politics is more important now, it's up to them. In the end, there’s only one question that needs to be answered. Whom will the people side with?]

The new issue comes amid the growing rift within the ruling party.

Over the past months, Duterte and Pacquiao have been engaged in a word war after the senator accused the President of leading a corrupt government. Pacquiao, who is being floated as a presidential candidate for next year's polls, also criticized Duterte for his soft stance against China on the West Philippine Sea issue.

Earlier this month, Pacquiao’s faction issued a resolution “expelling” Cusi and two other PDP-Laban members over alleged breach of the party’s constitution. Cusi’s group refused to recognize the expulsion order, which it later declared “null and void.”

CNN Philippines Correspondent Eimor Santos contributed to this report.