Koko Pimentel junks UNA ticket
In the end, conscience and principle appeared to have prevailed over political expediency for Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III.
Pimentel on Thursday announced that he was quitting the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), saying he could not “in conscience” run with former Senator Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri under the same senatorial ticket in next year’s elections.
Pimentel missed the first four years of his six-year term after Zubiri was erroneously declared winner of the 12th and final slot in the 2007 senatorial election.
He was able to assume office only in August last year after Zubiri resigned amid an investigation into alleged election fraud five years ago.
By leaving the UNA coalition, Pimentel said he was now “open for adoption” and would “consider any offer” from other political parties or alliances, including President Benigno Aquino’s Liberal Party.
“I cannot in conscience run for senator together with Senator Zubiri,” he told reporters after a two-hour meeting with former President Joseph Estrada.
“In the campaign, I want to be happy,” said Pimentel, who was accompanied in the meeting at Estrada’s San Juan City residence by his spiritual adviser, Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz.
Pimentel said he wanted to send the message that political alliances “should be based on principles” or at least, “commonality.”
In a statement sent from abroad, Zubiri expressed regret over Pimentel’s decision.
“Today is a sad day for the people of Visayas and Mindanao whose leaders have been clamoring for unity among us both to have more representation for the region,” Zubiri said. “I truly wanted us to mend our differences for the sake of more representation for the region.”
Pimentel made it clear that he was staying with Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), of which he is the party president.
PDP-Laban coalesced with Estrada’s Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) to form UNA.
Can’t be bargained
In a statement, Pimentel’s father, former Senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr., said that even in politics, principles could not be bargained away for the sake of political expediency.
“He is being made to be in the same ticket with Migz Zubiri, who he had charged with cheating him of victory. In the election protest, he had adequately proven that there was massive cheating in Maguindanao, especially. So how can Koko stand in the same platform or even run in the same ticket and tell the people, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, please elect me. I want clean and honest elections. I’m a crusader for an honest government. And you vote for me but you also vote for my colleague here,’” the elder Pimentel said.
He admitted that his son was taking a risk by leaving UNA.
“There is a price to it, naturally. You don’t just ignore Erap (Estrada) who is a proven vote-getter and has the means to spread his causes,” he said.
“But on the other hand, there is also, I think, a huge segment of the electorate which is looking for principled politics. So if you lose voters from the sector who believes that politics is just political gain, you will also gain from the thinking sector.”
Asset to any party
Koko Pimentel said he promised Estrada that his move would not “mess up” the coalition. “Nobody forced me to leave. This is my decision,” he said.
Both Estrada and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said they were saddened by
Pimentel’s decision. Vice President Jejomar Binay was not immediately informed of the development at UNA because he was still abroad.
Being the three senior UNA leaders, Estrada, Enrile and Binay call the shots in the coalition.
“I’m saddened because we went out of our way to bring them (Pimentel and Zubiri) together, but Koko has now decided,” Estrada told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone.
“I told him he would be an asset to any political party. He’s not just a godson to me. He’s intelligent, one of the most qualified senators. That’s why I’m sad.”
All best wishes
Enrile, a senior PMP leader, said he would still support Pimentel’s bid despite the senator’s decision to quit the coalition.
“I will help you,” he replied when Pimentel sought his help in the 2013 elections during a break at a committee hearing Thursday.
“I’m sad that he is leaving us in UNA. He would have been a worthy member of our ticket. But that’s a personal decision he has to make and I wish him the best,” Enrile later told reporters.
“If, as I said, he would ask for my support, I would help him just as much as I would the others without abandoning my obligations to my party and my coalition.”
Pimentel’s decision ended months of uncertainty on whether he could coexist with Zubiri under the same ticket.
Pimentel first broke the news to Estrada, who had been seeking a meeting with him to discuss the problem with Zubiri.
The meeting finally took place at 10 a.m. Thursday and Pimentel broke the ice by asking for forgiveness from Estrada, his wedding godfather: “Ninong, patawarin mo ’ko.”
“I’m now leaving. I cannot run for senator under UNA while Zubiri is there. And since Zubiri is there, I regret that I will not accept my nomination (as an UNA candidate),” the senator said.
Leaving a risk
In an interview with reporters later at the Senate, Pimentel said his decision came after he consulted his party mates, including his father who was among the founders of PDP-Laban.
Pimentel admitted that he was taking a “risk” by leaving UNA and running under PDP-Laban, a relatively small political party until it regained national prominence with Binay’s come-from-behind victory in 2010.
“My chances of winning are better if I am endorsed by President Estrada, Vice President Binay and Senate President Enrile. But that’s life. Sometimes, you cannot have it all. We are willing to take the risk,” he said. “I want to campaign with a happy heart.”
Estrada earlier warned Pimentel about the possibility of losing should he leave UNA. He said his endorsement, combined with that of Enrile’s and Binay’s, would easily overwhelm that of President Aquino’s.
Told that Pimentel was now “open for adoption,” Estrada said the senator had told him that he would “run as an independent under PDP-Laban.” “That was his answer to me,” the former President recalled.
What if Pimentel ended up running under Mr. Aquino’s LP? “It’s up to him. That’s his call,” Estrada said.
Originally posted at 01:35 pm | Thursday, June 28, 2012
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