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Aquino finds common cause with Senator Pimentel III

The man who has declared war on corruption is welcoming into his fold with open arms another man who says he cannot campaign in next year’s senatorial elections alongside an “election cheater.”

Malacañang aides on Friday said President Benigno Aquino III would “graciously welcome” Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III if the head of the PDP-Laban party decided to join the ruling coalition’s senatorial slate in the 2013 polls.

A presidential adviser said negotiations for Pimentel’s inclusion on the Liberal Party’s senatorial team would happen “soon” following Pimentel’s announced decision to leave the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).

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“I’m sure the President understands the sentiments of Senator Koko regarding the inclusion of several questionable personalities on the UNA slate which go against his principles and values,” Mr. Aquino’s political adviser Ronald Llamas said in a text message.

“So I think the President will graciously welcome Senator Koko if he should decide to join the administration ticket for 2013,” Llamas added.

He said that Mr. Aquino—who has vowed to weed out corruption in the government—and Pimentel shared the same advocacies and principles, “especially against electoral fraud,” and on the need to promote “a more credible and transparent electoral system.”

To attack cheaters

An LP stalwart, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, indicated the party was ready to accept Pimentel as a senatorial slate candidate.

“We are open, if he is interested. We just gave him time to sort out his situation with UNA,” Abad said. “Now that he has made up his mind, there is room for talks and that will happen soon.”

Pimentel has announced he is leaving UNA because of the inclusion of former Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri in that coalition’s senatorial team. Pimentel has accused Zubiri of cheating him in the 2007 elections.

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Zubiri was proclaimed winner of the 12th and final senatorial slot in the elections and served for four years in the Senate. He resigned his seat last year following revelations of massive cheating in Maguindanao. But he denied he was involved in the fraud.

In his letter to UNA in May expressing his objection to Zubiri’s inclusion on its ticket, Pimentel stressed the need for electoral reform, and added: “There is no way, during the campaign of 2013, that I can avoid attacking election cheaters. We will be on the same stage and I will be attacking him? This is the scenario I am avoiding.”

‘Like light and darkness’

Interviewed by the Inquirer on Friday, Pimentel said: “I really cannot run with him because on the issue of election fraud, we are like light and darkness. But it’s only on the issue of election fraud. I’m not claiming that I am of superior quality or anything.”

With Pimentel’s expected entry, the administration ticket might have at least four candidates from outside the LP.

They include Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, Technical Education and Skills Development Administration (Tesda) chief Joel Villanueva of the Citizens’ Battle Against Crime and Corruption party-list, former Akbayan party-list Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and Pimentel of PDP-Laban.

Mr. Aquino and Pimentel both ran on the Genuine Opposition senatorial slate backed by former President Joseph Estrada in 2007.

It was a powerhouse ticket that also included Sen. Manuel Villar, who would later run for president in 2010; Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a presidential candidate in 2004; and two-time vice presidential candidate Sen. Loren Legarda.

Risk of leaving UNA

Pimentel acknowledged he could lose next year’s elections. But the first-term senator, who is also talking with other political parties, said he would not regret his decision to quit UNA even if he would lose the “combined” endorsement of the three popular leaders of the coalition.

He was referring to Estrada, Vice President Jejomar Binay and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.

“There is really a risk, but my decision was independent of the question of winning or losing,” he told the Inquirer on the phone. “Even if I lose, no regrets. I can live with my decision.”

Apart from Mr. Aquino’s endorsement, the support of Estrada, Binay and Enrile is deemed to carry the most weight in next year’s midterm elections, according to a Pulse Asia survey last February.

Even without the Big 3

“Realistically speaking, some people were happy with my decision and some people were unhappy. I’ll definitely convert some into voters and I’ll also convert some into nonvoters,” Pimentel said.

But the senator remained optimistic he would win a fresh mandate even without the backing of what he called UNA’s Big 3.

“Although I have stated that I am prepared to lose, I am still confident of winning,” he said.

Pimentel said he was open to discussions about joining other senatorial slates, but only as a guest candidate. Besides the LP, he also mentioned Villar’s Nacionalista Party.

Wary of ‘deal-breakers’

Asked what would convince him to run with the LP, he said: “I don’t need any great convincing.”

But having learned from his UNA experience, Pimentel said he would first ensure there would be no “deal-breakers” on whatever ticket he would join.

He cited the “notoriety” of a fellow candidate when it came to corruption or election fraud.

“I’m checking if there are possible deal-breakers,” he said. “Our position on nonnegotiable issues must jibe, must be similar, must not contradict. If there are no deal-breakers, OK, we proceed to the next step.”

Support from bishops

Two Catholic bishops praised Pimentel’s move to bolt UNA.

“Senator Koko is like his father, both of them are principled … both of them are straight,” Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz told reporters, referring to former Sen. Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr.

Cruz said the younger Pimentel should earn respect because he did not allow himself to be blinded by UNA’s strong political machinery.

“UNA has the votes, the money and the party stature but the man still left despite all these and that says a lot of things about him,” Cruz said. “I understand his decision. I know the political loss he will suffer for that decision and yet he made it.”

Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes said Pimentel made a “good decision.”  “It’s a sign of protest against cheats,” Bastes said on the phone.

Political maturity

Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal said leaving UNA showed Pimentel’s “principled stand” and political maturity.  It would also give him political mileage “as he will not be perceived as a political opportunist,” Macalintal said.

He said Pimentel could not be blamed if he could not stomach campaigning side by side with Zubiri.

“If they campaign separately under UNA, as suggested by UNA officers, the more the electorate will remember their political enmity, which will not augur well for UNA and its allies and supporters,” Macalintal said. With a report from Jocelyn R. Uy

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TAGS: 2013 midterm elections, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Koko Pimentel, Noynoy Aquino, PDP-Laban, President Benigno Aquino III, Ronald Llamas, Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, UNA coalition, United Nationalist Alliance
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