‘It’s complicated’ for Pimentel, ‘more personal’ for ZubiriBy Kate Evangelista, Matikas Santos
PERSONAL APPEAL. Juan Miguel Zubiri appeals to Senator Aquilino Pimentel III to stop the personal attacks against him following his membership in the United Nationalist Alliance and his inclusion in its senatorial slate in the 2013 elections. Video by INQUIRER.net’s Ryan Leagogo
MANILA, Philippines – As Senator Aquilino Pimentel III tries to find a way out of his “complicated” political situation, former Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, whom Pimentel considers his nemesis and whose presence in his party has threatened his own membership, appealed to the Cagayan de Oro lawmaker to stop the personal attacks against him.
In separate interviews on Thursday with Radyo Inquirer 990AM and Inquirer Bandera, the tabloid publication of the Inquirer Group of Companies, Zubiri made it clear that the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) did not draft him into its senatorial slate because of his money.
“No money was ever involved in this transaction,” Zubiri said.
“I subjected myself to the screening process of UNA. I told them whatever their decision will be, I will accept. If they don’t want to put me in the UNA line-up, I will accept,” he said.
UNA is a coalition between Vice President Jejomar Binay’s Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) and former President Joseph Estrada’s Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP).
In a press conference earlier on Thursday, Pimentel said he would stop calling Zubiri a cheat. “OK, I will give him his request; it’s no longer time to call people names. It’s time to act,” he said.
Nevertheless, Pimentel said that he would not hesitate to file a case against Zubiri if he would find enough evidence to warrant legal action.
At the same time, Pimentel, son of former Senator Aquilion Pimentel Jr., said due to principle he could not join UNA’s senatorial line-up if the coalition would keep Zubiri in its fold.
Pimentel III used a popular Facebook relationship status to describe his current predicament: “It’s complicated.”
Pimentel remained evasive on questions whether he would bolt UNA after the coalition announced that it would be fielding Zubiri for its senatorial slate.
Pimentel said he was still ironing out his problem with UNA over the inclusion of his rival Zubiri.
The senator from Cagayan de Oro City has always contended that Zubiri knew of the Arroyo administration’s alleged plot to rig the 2007 senatorial election.
As a result, Zubiri was able to edge out Pimentel and occupy a Senate seat until last year when former election supervisor Lintang Bedol surfaced in August to say there was cheating in Maguindanao in 2007.
Zubiri stepped down and Pimentel, who had the most votes after Zubiri, took over the seat. By then Pimentel had missed the first four years of his term.
Pimentel said that he was opening himself to more possibilities but maintained that whatever his decision may be, he would remain a member of the Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan.
“Whatever is the solution, I will not leave my party, the PDP laban,” Pimentel told reporters, adding that he will make his decision whether to run under the UNA coalition slate within the next two weeks.
“And that’s what actually makes it difficult. What is that solution? I don’t want to run with a nominee of the PMP (Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino) yet I don’t want to leave PDP-Laban, yet the PMP and PDP-Laban have a signed agreement. I need to consult with my friends and party-mates because it’s complicated” he added.
In the Radyo Inquirer interview later on Thursday, Zubiri said he was puzzled why the Pimentels were getting personal.
Zubiri could not hide his dismay after the older Pimentel joined the squabble over UNA’s decision to accommodate the former senator from Bukidnon.
“I don’t want to pick a fight with Nene [older Pimentel’s nickname] Pimentel but I beg to disagree with him … I’d like to tell him no money was involved in this transaction whatsoever,” Zubiri said.
He said he was sad and hurt by the unfounded accusation of the Pimentels.
“I have a family, I have a wife and two children and if you’re insulting somebody on national television it will traumatize [the] children,” he said when asked how he took it when the younger Pimentel called him a “cheat” and the older Pimentel painted him as buying his way into the coalition.
“Binay [and] Estrada will take it as a big insult that they will get a candidate just for cash,” Zubiri said. “I think that is a big insult to them, to their reputation and their integrity.”
Zubiri said that he could not understand why the younger Pimentel was passionately opposing his candidacy.
“I don’t know why he’s making it a personal issue. It’s too personal, I think it’s really too personal,” Zubiri said.
Zubiri said when the long recount of the 2007 elections found that Pimentel was as the official 12th senator, he resigned “to show to the public and to him that I had nothing to do with it.”
“I could have remained if I was a traditional politician. I could have completely ignored all the news, not watch the television, and continued on with my work; I would still be the senator today,” he added.
“But I gave up all that so that [Pimentel] could fill up that slot, we could forget about 2007 [elections] and we have a clean slate for 2013. I just want to run again,” Zubiri said.
Zubiri recalled that after he resigned as a senator, Binay called him up from Sweden and personally invited him to join the UNA slate.
He later paid a courtesy visit to Binay who told him not to worry because he would be included in the UNA senatorial slate and he would talk to Pimentel to fix the issues between them.
The entire UNA team was in favor of Zubiri except for Pimentel, he said.
“It was a unanimous choice, I was supported by everyone except for Senator Koko. Everyone who attended the meeting supported me. There was not one negative comment,” Zubiri said.
Zubiri said that he really would have wanted to run with Pimentel because both of them can bring much needed attention to the Visayas and Mindanao region.
“[UNA] tried their best to ask Koko [Pimentel III] to take me in consideration, unfortunately, Koko has taken a very hardline stance,” he said.
Saving UNA membership
Despite denouncing UNA for its decision to include Zubiri in its senatorial late, Pimentel said he was still hopeful he could save his membership in the coalition.
“I want to stay, I want to stay with UNA, I will try to save my membership with UNA, because matagal ko nang kasama mga yan [I have been with them for a long time],” he said.
Pimentel said that he was still consulting other members of their party. So far, according to the senator, he has been receiving positive feedback from his party-mates. However, he admitted that things haven’t been going according to how he would want them to be.
“So far, it’s OK, [because] they are supportive,” Pimentel said. The Senator maintained that the purpose of his consultation with partymates was to come up with a sound solution to his problem. He said so far all he got were pledges of support for whatever his decision would be.
Binay to respect Pimentel III’s decision
Also on Thursday, Vice President Jejomar Binay said he would respect Pimentel III’s decision if he would decide to leave the UNA.
“Whatever is his decision, we will respect it,” Binay said in a chance interview with reporters after he spoke at the opening of the Asia-Pacific Scout Regional Management Meeting in Makati City.
Binay said he did not wish to speculate and would wait for his meeting with Pimentel III.
“Base sa mga nababasa at napapanood ko, mag-uusap kami ni Senator Koko. Wala naman kaming dahilan para hindi magusap [From what I’ve read and seen, Senator Pimentel and I will talk about it soon. There’s no reason for us not to],” Binay said.
Binay said he and Pimentel III met during the traditional vin d’ honneur at the Malacañang Palace on Tuesday but did not talk about the issue.
When asked about his comments on the statement of the older Pimentel, saying UNA sacrificed principles over money when they chose to accept Zubiri, Binay said “Okay lang, sa diwa ng tunay na demokrasya kanya kanya ng opinion [It’s OK, in the spirit of democracy, everyone’s entitled to his own opinion].”
Binay said his relationship with Pimentel Jr. remained “OK,” saying he had long ties with him.
“Lagi kong sinasabi na yung pagka-Mayor ko ay utang ko kay Nene Pimentel [I always tell people that my being Mayor [of Makati City], I owe it to Nene Pimentel],” he said.
Binay stressed the need for Pimentel III to accept UNA’s decision, saying the covenant stated that a member from either PDP-Laban or PMP that was endorsed by a founding member must be accepted as part of the slate.
UNA formally announced the acceptance of Zubiri on Monday, despite strong objection from Pimentel III. With a report from Jamie Elona