MANILA, Philippines?Saying his electoral protest was being caught up in political intramurals for the Senate presidency, defeated senatorial candidate Aquilino ?Koko? Pimentel III has questioned the recent decision of the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) to proceed with an expanded counter-protest of his rival, Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri.
At a press conference, Pimentel, son and namesake of the recently retired minority leader in the upper chamber, asked for a reconsideration of a June 4 SET Resolution which gave way to Zubiri?s motion to open an additional 52,000 ballot boxes to prove that he, too, was cheated in the race.
?That has no basis at all,? countered Pimentel, who pointed out that the recount so far of selected precincts in the 2007 senatorial race shows that he leads Zubiri by more than 250,000 votes.
But the SET, composed of three Supreme Court Associate Justices and six members of the Senate, voted 7-2 to give way to Zubiri?s request to open over 50,000 more boxes.
It would also take ?more than six years? to open all those ballot boxes, noted Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who chairs the SET and voted against the resolution.
?I hope Senate politics is kept out (of the SET proceedings)...this is not a political issue; this is a judicial case,? said Pimentel, asking senators to only ?look at the evidence.?
Pimentel had asked the SET to disqualify Senators Edgardo Angara, Loren Legarda and Lito Lapid from membership in the SET, saying they were impartial judges because they and Zubiri belonged to a group in the Senate that has agreed to vote for a common Senate president.
Whoever wins as Senate president will have the power to either retain or change the membership of the SET.
Contacted by phone, Zubiri questioned why the SET decision was leaked and made an issue at this time.
But Zubiri also linked recent developments on his counter protest case to the Senate presidential race which is being fought by Sen. Francis Pangilinan and Sen. Manuel Villar Jr.
Pangilinan is also a member of the SET and had supported the resolution that favored Zubiri.
But Zubiri denied that Pangilinan pressured him into supporting him in the latter?s bid to become Senate president.
?I never talked to Kiko (Pangilinan?s nickname). Never did he call me up asking me to vote for him,? he said.
Zubiri, however, said that in the last two weeks, ?pressures coming to us are extreme from a particular group? regarding their vote for the Senate presidency.
He did not want to name the group.
Angara had claimed his group would provide the swing votes that would help choose the next Senate president.
Horse trading for choice positions in committees often accompany vote commitments.
At presstime, the camp of Sen. Pangilinan said the former already had 11 votes of senators, reportedly including Revilla and Lapid, who belong to Angara?s group.
Thirteen votes are needed to clinch the Senate presidency.
Zubiri said their group will meet on Saturday to decide who it will support for Senate president.