“Laughable” was how Kontra Daya convenor Danny Arao described the petition filed by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi as president of his faction of the ruling PDP-Laban asking the Commission on Elections to reopen the filing of the certificates of candidacy for the May 9, 2022 national elections.

Indeed, the Cusi petition was just as “laughable” as all the PDP-Laban Cusi wing’s actions from the time his group ousted Sen. Manny Pacquiao as president of the ruling party, made announcements of their presidential slate, and up to the time some of its more prominent members filed, substituted, and withdrew their candidacies.

In the first place, the deadline for the filing of candidacy was last October 8, 2021 yet, why is he seeking the extension only now after the deadline has lapsed by three months, and the elections are just four months away?

The PDP-Laban Cusi wing, through lawyer Melvin Matibag, its secretary general, said the Comelec should reopen the COC filing and postpone the printing of official ballots because of disqualification cases still pending with the poll body. Matibag also said the one-week period for the filing of COC was “unreasonable, unnecessary and legally impossible,” ignoring the fact that no complaint or any problem has ever occurred since the Comelec imposed the filing period deadline after the national elections were set in May based on the 1987 Constitution.

Neither Matibag nor Cusi explained why the party finds the deadline “unreasonable, unnecessary and legally impossible.”

In fact, as the Inquirer pointed out, the PDP-Laban itself has not had any problem fielding presidential, vice presidential and other national candidates within the mandated deadline since the party’s founding in 1982.

Why is Cusi’s faction of the erstwhile revered PDP-Laban party, founded by the late democratic icons Senators Nene Pimentel and Ninoy Aquino, asking for the reopening of the filing of COCs three months after the lawfully imposed deadline?

The Cusi wing was, in fact, able to meet the deadline for the filing of candidacy. On Oct. 8 last year, Senators Bato de la Rosa and Bong Go, two of the most trusted aides of President Rodrigo Duterte, filed their COCs for president and vice president, respectively, under the PDP-Laban. This surprise moves came after it was floated that Go would run for president and Duterte for vice president.

It was clear to everybody, however, that De la Rosa was only a placeholder for Davao City Vice Mayor Sara Duterte and Go possibly for former Sen. Bongbong Marcos as the presidential daughter’s running mate.

But Sara flatly rejected the father’s offer and filed her certificate of candidacy for reelection as Davao City mayor. And we know what happened next: Bongbong decides to run for president and Sara agreed to be her running mate. This apparently irked Duterte, who couldn’t accept that his chosen heir apparent had slid down to vice president without consulting him.

The deadline for substitution came and went on Nov. 8 with the ruling party left without a candidate for either president or vice president because both De la Rosa and Go withdrew their candidacies.

The PDP-Laban Cusi wing, after much drama and confusion, was left holding the proverbial empty bag, perhaps the first time a ruling party has no candidate for the top two national positions.

What happened between the filing deadline and the day the Cusi wing filed the petition to reopen the filing of COCs? Obviously, any talks, if ever, between the Duterte camp and the Bongbong-Sara team failed to convince the latter to make any changes to their line-up before the deadline for substitutions. The negotiations could have shifted to a possible endorsement by the PDP-Laban Cusi wing of the Bongbong-Sara tandem in exchange for certain concessions. Or Duterte couldn’t swallow his pride and accept Bongbong into the PDP-Laban fold after badmouthing the late dictator’s son, or vice versa.

And now, caught in an impasse that could only mean Duterte completely losing power and influence after June 30 this year when he steps down, the Duterte camp decided to play their last, improbable card — seek a reopening of the COC filing and field a strong team that can hope to beat both the Bongbong-Sara team and the opposition candidates in May.

Who could those candidates be? Are those candidates strong enough for the Cusi camp to even consider filing a petition that looks at first glance legally untenable? Or is there truth to claims by the opposition and militant groups that this is just another ploy to call for a no-election and extend Duterte’s term?

Why the Comelec did not dismiss the petition outright and why it has not scheduled a hearing on the petition when the election is just four months away, considering that it still has to print the official ballots and make preparations for Election Day escapes plausible explanation.

“There is no precedent for a petition of this kind, simply because the finalization of the list of candidates has always been imbued with urgency for the Comelec to still entertain any petition of such kind that would effectively delay an already tight election schedule,” said detained Sen. Leila de Lima, a former election lawyer.

Even the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, which has supported Duterte in the past, questioned the intentions of the Cusi wing. VACC president Arsenio Evangelista described the petition as “an insidious attempt by unscrupulous politicians to ensure their hold on power at the expense of suffering Filipinos.”

“The deadline of October 8, 2021 was well known to every political aspirant and party organization well in advance and everyone had ample time to prepare. It would be terribly unfair for those who exerted great efforts and endured sacrifices to meet these deadlines, and for them to be told now that there are exceptions to these rules and an extension has to be made,” Evangelista correctly added.

But the Cusi petition is more than laughable. It is clearly a last-ditch attempt by Duterte and his misguided allies to hold on to power. That this is happening at a time when the Duterte administration should focus on stopping the surge of the Covid-19, which has already passed previous pandemic records and threatens anew the well-being of the people, the country and the economy, is simply unacceptable. That this blatant attempt to hold on to power is happening again 50 years after the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law in 1972 a year before he was scheduled to step down makes it even more a cause for concern.

(Editor’s Note: At press time, the Commission on Elections en banc unanimously junked the petition saying they did not find the plea meritorious, according to Comelec spokesman James Jimenez.)