CLARK FREEPORT/LOS ANGELES – The Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) elected Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi as party president during its national assembly at the Royce Hotel in Clark, Pampanga over the weekend, virtually knocking out Senator Manny Pacquiao.

Pacquiao,  who is currently in Los Angeles, California where he is training for his August 22 (August 21, US time) fight against Errol Spence Jr. in Las Vegas, and Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel, whose father founded the PDP-Laban, however, refused to recognize the assembly and its actions, pointing out that they have called the official party assembly for September 17 where grassroots members will attend.

The Cusi faction decision came weeks after Pacquiao, a possible presidential contender in 2022, challenged President Rodrigo Duterte, the party chairman, over his soft stance on China’s aggression in West Philippine Sea and record on fighting corruption.

Pacquiao was initially being considered by Duterte as among the personalities who might be the PDP-Laban’s standard bearer next year.

Pacquiao’s claim that corruption worsened under Duterte’s watch prompted the President to say that he would not support the former’s possible presidential bid in 2022, if the senator fails to substantiate his claim.

Seemingly challenged by presidential spokesperson Harry Roque’s “watusi” remark, Senator Pacquiao  vowed to release audio and video recordings to back his corruption claims against the government.

Pacquiao, in an interview with Radyo BZBB, vowed to make public the audio and video recordings when he gets back from the United States after his August boxing match with Errol Spence Jr.

“Alam mo natatawa lang ako. Sabi nila ‘watusi.’ Natatawa nga ako, watusi. Sige, pagdating ko diyan, watusi pala, ipapalabas ko video, audio recording — kung papayag lang maipalabas pati audio recording,” Pacquiao said.

Roque has belittled Pacquiao’s accusation of corruption against the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Health, and Department of Energy, saying he was expecting an “atom bomb” but got “watusi” — a small firecracker — instead.

Pacquiao, in the same interview, reiterated that he is not picking a fight with President Rodrigo Duterte but is in fact trying to help the administration address government corruption.

“Watusi? Hindi ako nakikipagaway sa Pangulo. Hindi ako nakikipag-away sa ‘yo, Mr. President. Ang alam ko ayaw mo rin ng korapsyon. Kahit ilan beses tayong naguusap Mr. President lagi kong sinasabi sayo na ayaw ko ng corruption,” he said.

Pacquiao earlier expelled Cusi and deputy secretary general Melvin Matibag for allegedly “manipulating” members to support the possible tandem of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte and her father in the 2022 elections as presidential and vice presidential candidates, respectively.

Senator Francis Tolentino, meanwhile,  appealed to his partymates in the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) to “simmer down” and make peace with each other.

“The proper attitude should be to simmer down, all those talking should stop. There should be a ceasefire on this and let the process evolve,” Tolentino said.

During the assembly attended by Cabinet members, at least 25 governors and several members of Congress, President  Duterte  thanked the members of the ruling party for their “continued trust and confidence” in him despite the rift among his party mates.

“I am grateful for PDP Laban’s continued trust and confidence in my leadership,” Duterte said.

Earlier Senator Pimentel told members of the PDP-Laban to ignore the national assembly organized by Cusi.

Duterte defended the election of Cusi, saying there is nothing in the party’s by-laws “which would provide for an acting president solely upon the push and shove of the president”.

He added that Pimentel “started the ruckus” by appointing Pacquiao as the “acting president” of PDP-Laban.

“You just do not push somebody there. ‘O sige, ikaw na muna mag-presidente’ (‘You can now serve as the president’). That is not how things are done,” Duterte said. “Ang nagkamali diyan si, ang nagkamali diyan si Koko, hindi si Pacquiao (It is Koko’s mistake, not Pacquiao’s). Pacquiao does not know anything.”

Duterte acknowledged that Pimentel might make a move to challenge the election of new PDP-Laban officers.

Hindi natin alam kung ano ang gagawin sa kabila. Baka nagta-type na si Koko ng petition doon sa Comelec (Perhaps, Koko is now drafting a petition for the Comelec [Commission on Elections]). But tignan natin (let’s see). Let us see. Let us see. Eh iyan ang nag-umpisa ng (He was the one who started the) ruckus,” he said.

Duterte, however, reminded Pimentel that PDP-Laban, which was “asleep for 100 years”, only “woke up during the election and when I ran for the presidency under the ticket”.

Amid the feud within the PDP-Laban, Duterte called on his party mates to remain focused on their ultimate goal of bringing comfortable life to all Filipinos.

“Let us not be blinded by our own ambitions and let us not allow this party to advance personal interests,” Duterte said. “To my dear party mates, let us never lose sight of the founding principles from which this party was built on. And let us never forget that our end goal is always to improve welfare of the Filipino people.”

Duterte said the attendance of PDP-Laban members in the national assembly sends a “clear and resounding” message that the ruling party is “as strong as ever”.

He also thanked his party mates’ continued support for his administration’s relentless drive against illegal drugs, terrorism, corruption in government, and criminality.

“Despite all the challenges that we are facing, your unwavering support for this administration’s priorities — especially our campaign against illegal drugs, terrorism, corruption, and poverty — is truly reassuring,” he said.

Given that the PDP-Laban has “grown big” and that its members appear to be “united” until the end of his term, Duterte vowed to campaign for those who want to run in the 2022 local and national and elections.

To support his claim Pacquiao filed a resolution seeking a Senate investigation into the alleged failure of the DSWD to distribute P10.4 billion worth of financial assistance to the poor.

He filed the resolution almost two weeks after he bared the alleged corruption in the distribution of cash doles through the e-wallet service Starpay.

Pacquiao made the allegations after Duterte lashed out at him for claiming that corruption has worsened under the current administration.

Duterte challenged him to name the corrupt officials and he would do something about the matter.

Pacquiao accepted the president’s dare and bared alleged corruption in the DSWD, DOH, and DOE.

Pacquiao first earned the ire of Duterte when he apparently criticized the president’s stance on the West Philippine Sea issue.

Pacquiao, in the dzBB interview, slammed Kingdom of Jesus Christ leader Apollo Quiboloy for supposedly accusing him of corruption in one of the infrastructure projects in his hometown of Sarangani.

Pacquiao said that Quiboloy and his staff “fabricated” a story, claiming that the lawmaker has led an infrastructure project worth P3.5 billion but they attached an old photo of the building that was constructed in 1996.

“Hindi kinunan yung mga bagong building na nagawa.  Actually, ang budget talaga noon, nasa mga P350 to P400 million or pinaka-maximum na 500 million. ‘Yun yung training center ng Saranggani, ‘yung may batas. Hindi P3.5 [billion] (They did not attach the photos of the newly-constructed buildings. The budget for the project ranges from P300 to P500 million. That is for the training center in Saranggani which was constructed through a law. The P3.5 billion claim was false.) ,” he said.