While saying “the party is always open to change,” a ranking PDP Laban official on Monday also insisted that Senator Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa was never a “last-minute choice” for its presidential candidate.
Party Secretary-General Melvin Matibag, a lawyer, said De la Rosa was, in fact, in the shortlist of personalities earlier considered to become the party’s standard-bearer before the general membership endorsed Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go as the top choice.
Go, however, opted to run as vice president after President Rodrigo Duterte, the party’s chairperson, forewent his earlier plan of sliding down the vice-presidency.
Duterte’s surprise decision came as a reaction to a survey that found 60 percent of the respondents were against Duterte seeking the vice-presidency.
The respondents agreed that it was against the spirit of the 1987 Constitution if Duterte ran for vice president as it would have given him another shot at the presidency should the next elected president resigns or becomes incapacitated.
The reelection of a president is against the Charter.
Sans a standard-bearer, De la Rosa stepped up and surprised the field when he filed his Certificate of Candidacy last Friday before the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
Matibag, however, said De la Rosa was just one among those considered to carry the PDP Laban banner.
“If you will recall my interviews before, we have been mentioning Sen. Bato, Sen. (Francis) Tolentino, and other Cabinet members whom we consider as possible presidential candidates before the Go-Duterte tandem even floated,” Matibag stated.
“While it appeared (it was made at) last minute, the preparations were there. We followed the process of PDP Laban,” he pointed out.
“If it’s last minute, we should have filed at 4:59 p.m. We did not file at 5 p.m. We discussed things thoroughly. We can speculate a lot of things but it’s true that it went through the process,” he added.
Matibag noted that the party has passed a resolution authorizing Duterte — the party’s chair — to complete the selection of the national candidates, including the presidential and vice-presidential posts.
How did the party come up with the decision to field the Bato-Bong tandem?
Matibag said De la Rosa was only one of the “two to three” members considered — after Go, as standard-bearer.
“Winnability and the acceptance to continue the Duterte legacy” are the standards the party had set in choosing its figurehead for the upcoming elections, he said.
“Sen. Bato is a national figure. He obtained 19 million votes in the 2019 elections. He was number five (in the senatorial race),” Matibag stressed.
“He was a PNP (Philippine National Police) Chief, so he has the network all over the country. He is someone who can continue what President Duterte has started especially the war on drugs, the war against criminality, and insurgency. That’s why he emerged as the final choice of PDP Laban,” he explained.
In a separate interview, Matibag said that while De la Rosa was not the “best presidential candidate” the party can endorse, the neophyte lawmaker was the one “available.”
He’s no greenhorn, Matibag implied.
“When Sen. (Panfilo) Lacson ran for president in 2004, he was only serving as a senator for three years. But no one questioned his capacity to run for president, so the standards should be the same,” he said.
Lacson is also seeking the presidency on 9 May 2022.
De la Rosa’s “greatest strength” would be the backing of the ruling party, according to Matibag.
“The party is behind him. We have talked to local chief executives and they welcomed the candidacy of Senators Bato and Bong. They even allowed us to utilize their headquarters and are helping us with the layout and design of campaign materials,” he disclosed.
Matibag said the PDP Laban will campaign for a “Bato-Go” tandem starting in Lanao del Sur, but the party will remain open to the possibility of substitution.
A candidate may be substituted until 15 November. It is the rule that still fans hope for Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio to seek the presidency, and De la Rosa is the most likely candidate to give way for her as the lawmaker has admitted, himself.
“We are preparing to campaign for the Bato-Go tandem, we are planning to do a caravan for that. It is possible that there will be a substitution, well it is always possible. But as to the certainty, we cannot say that,” Matibag said.
“Is it wrong for Sen. Bato to be substituted before 15 November? The answer is no. Because even the Comelec resolution allows substitution up to 15 November. That is the process that we should respect and we have to recognize,” he stressed.
Duterte-Carpio had said she will not seek a national post and will run for a third and final term as Davao City mayor. Her father, the president, echoed her statement soon after De la Rosa had filed his CoC.
Senator Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao, a claimant to the PDP Laban leadership but is running for president under the Promdi banner, said his camp does not consider De la Rosa as the real candidate of the party.