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PDP-Laban’s membership expansion: quality or quantity?

RECENT developments in the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino – Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) in Mindanao in the past few days have prompted Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, the party President, to issue a statement that party members “can only achieve our goals if we present a united front to the world” and warned expulsion of members “providing ammunition to those who seek to sow divisions within the party.”

A major problem hounding the party is the acceptance of new members into PDP-Laban in preparation for the 2019 elections, allegedly even without attending the party’s mandatory Basic Membership Seminar, or in exchange for money.

Last month, former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Jr., who founded the PDP-Laban in 1982, appealed to the party leadership to scrutinize the motives of politicians joining them to ensure they adhere to the party’s ideals and are not merely joining for convenience.

“And only if the party is satisfied that they are really sincere, eager to learn about party platforms, direction that they should be accepted as members. Otherwise, they should be accepted as allies but not necessarily members,” he told Rappler Talk.

On Sunday, the elder Pimentel told MindaNews that “all kinds of political ‘experts’ are climbing into the political ring in support of the PDP Laban champion and in the process they crowd out any other political party contender into oblivion.”

“This is not the best scenario but that’s how it is turning out in our country,” he said, adding, “What is most important is for the people to speak out their minds openly for or against events happening in the country.”

The party’s national chair is President Rodrigo Duterte, its standard-bearer in the 2016 elections. Duterte has repeatedly referred to the PDP-Laban as a “moribund” political party until he accepted its offer to run for President in November 2015.

In Philippine history, this is the first time that the President, Senate President and House Speaker are all from Mindanao. Duterte is the 16th President of the Philippines and the first Mindanawon to lead the nation.

‘Persona non grata”

A group claiming to represent “original PDP-Laban stalwarts” from various regions in Mindanao said they declared as “persona non grata” House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr., the party’s secretary general, in a resolution passed Thursday.

But PDP-Laban President Pimentel told MindaNews on Friday that the move is “clearly a demolition job against Speaker Alvarez, our legitimate party secretary-general.”

MindaNews sought Alvarez for comment but he sent no reply. In Koronadal on Friday, he warned of rampant illegal recruitment activities for membership into PDP-Laban in exchange for money. Among the “illegal recruiters,” he said, are legitimate party members.

Also on Friday, party president Pimentel in a press statement said the ruling party has not declared Alvarez as ‘persona non grata” and that the group of Rogelio Garcia, a former Labor Undersecretary, and Cesar Cuntapay, regional party president of Southern Mindanao (Region XI) and Mindanao Area Council chair “does not represent the Party.”

Cuntapay said they did not claim to represent the entire party.

“Whatever their complaints,” the younger Pimentel said of Cuntapay’s group, “someone (referring to Alvarez) who has expanded the base of PDP Laban in the House of Representatives from three to 123 members cannot be said to have done or be doing acts inimical to the Party.”

Alvarez, he claimed, “in fact strengthened the Party with quality members and was crucial in the passage of laws that forward the Change we in the Party advocate.”

The party president said he asked Cuntapay to “respect the Party’s processes” and submit his complaint to PDP Laban’s arbitration procedure.

“I will not allow the Party my father built to be dragged through the mud because of personal differences between Party members,” he said, adding the party is “working to build a better society and a Federal Philippines” and anyone who describes himself as a loyal party member “must respect and obey the party’s by-laws,” he said.

He ordered Cuntapay to “immediately cease from these actions inimical to the Party’s image and morale, or be subject to Party discipline.”

Taking sides

Cuntapay told MindaNews on Sunday that he had expected Pimentel would not take sides but find out first what the issues are so these can be resolved.

The party, he said, is “politically too compromised.”

Cuntapay claimed in a press release Thursday that some 200 “original PDP-Laban stalwarts from various regions of Mindanao” issued the resolution declaring Alvarez “persona non grata,” claiming Alvarez is “a guy with no moral ascendancy,” an “unscrupulous politico,” an “immoral legislator” and a “fake secretary-general.”

He said four resolutions were passed, including the “unification and strengthening of the Mindanao sector of the party.”

Cuntapay’s group called on Alvarez to stop mass oath-taking rites “without the applicants undergoing the Basic Membership Seminar,” a requirement under the party’s by-laws.

He urged Pimentel to convene the party for a Mindanao Summit on November 30.

Cuntapay claimed he was replaced by Alvarez “on impulse,” that Alvarez was “fortifying his hold in the region at the expense of the party’s principles” and should be ousted.

“I am not backing out from this fight and I still do function as a regional president of Region XI because Alvarez unilaterally has no authority to remove council officers (of) good standing,” the press release quoted Cuntapay as saying.

Mend fences

Pimentel said he hopes Alvarez and Cuntapay can mend fences for the good of the party but added it is “also clear” that he will “not hesitate to expel Cuntapay for using the Party’s name for personal reasons.”

“We can only achieve our goals if we present a united front to the world. By providing ammunition to those who seek to sow divisions within the Party, Mr. Cuntapay is harming PDP Laban, and can be expelled should he so continue with these actions,” said Pimentel.

In Koronadal, Alvarez on Friday warned of rampant illegal recruitment activities for membership into PDP-Laban in exchange for mone.

Alvarez, who led a mass oath-taking there of around 3,000 new party members, said they received reports that some individuals claiming to be PDP-Laban recruiters have been visiting sitios and barangays to enlist new members.

He said the “illegal recruiters,” among them legitimate PDP-Laban members, was reported to have been administering oaths and issuing supposed party identification cards for undisclosed fees, and was promised appointments as barangay officials.

Alvarez said party membership nationwide is currently undergoing reorganization and that only he, Pimentel and PDP-Laban vice president, Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, are authorized to administer oaths.

Party rules provide that city, provincial and regional councils can administer the oath after the prospective members complete a two-day Basic Membership Seminar. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

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