UNA stands by decision to include Zubiri

Posted at 06/11/2012 3:12 PM | Updated as of 06/11/2012 6:57 PM

Leaves it to Koko whether to leave or stay in UNA ticket

MANILA, Philippines (1st UPDATE) - The United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) on Monday formally endorsed former Senator Juan Miguel 'Migz' Zubiri as part of its senatorial slate in 2013, leaving the fate of Senator Aquilino 'Koko' Pimentel III up in the air.

In a press conference after the meeting of leaders of UNA at the Coconut Palace, UNA spokesperson JV Bautista said the alliance has decided to field Zubiri at the behest of Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) stalwart, former President Joseph Estrada.

“Insofar as Koko [is concerned], we respect his personal sentiments and feelings, but the alliance will not delve into personalities here…The decision will now be left to Koko,” Bautista said.

He said UNA doesn't want to speculate on what Pimentel will do in response to UNA's move.

Pimentel, president of PDP-Laban, earlier threatened to leave the coalition if Vice President Jejomar Binay will not drop Zubiri from its senatorial ticket in 2013.

Pimentel has always believed that Zubiri knew about the electoral cheating in 2007, which led him to lose over four years of his Senate term. In August 2011, the Senate Electoral Tribunal proclaimed Pimentel the real winner in the 2007 elections after Zubiri resigned.

Zubiri has always maintained that he was not aware of the poll fraud when he ran in 2007.

In a last ditch effort to exclude Zubiri from UNA's line-up, Pimentel wrote his “Ninong Erap” a letter on May 21, saying: "I have put my life on the line in the fight against electoral fraud. What has Migz done in this regard? Well, he enjoyed tremendously the benefits of a stolen office. He held on to the proceeds of the crime of electoral fraud for four long years and two months!"

Zubiri earlier took his oath before Estrada’s political party. UNA is the coalition of the PDP-Laban and PMP.

Bautista said the concerns of Pimentel were "very seriously” taken up by the leaders of UNA. In fact, he said Pimentel himself was invited, but he snubbed the meeting.

“We refer back to the covenant of unity of UNA, which very clearly indicated that a member of a political party [PDP-Laban or PMP] endorsed by said party shall automatically become a candidate [for the UNA slate],” Bautista said.

Koko signatory to covenant

He noted that Pimentel himself was a signatory to the covenant.

UNA deputy spokesperson Rodolfo “Ompong” Plaza said that it is now the decision of Pimentel on what to do next. He said UNA will not decide for him.

“We have to bear in mind that he’s a signatory to the covenant…He’s bound to that. Nonetheless, as much as we want him to be with us, it’s his call,” he said.

Binay’s daughter, Nancy, who is UNA deputy secretary-general, added “it’s up to him [Koko] if he wants to leave. Binibilang pa rin namin na kasama sya.”

Bautista hopes that Pimentel will exercise “better judgment and remain as part of UNA.” He noted that Pimentel was the first to be endorsed by PDP-Laban, being its president. “And PMP did not make any objection. Mutual respect must be afforded them,” he said.

Besides Pimentel, UNA also endorsed businessman Jose “Joey” de Venecia III, Cagayan Rep. Jackie Enrile, San Juan Rep. JV Ejercito and incumbent senator Gregorio Honasan for its senatorial ticket.

UNA also formally included Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia and Zambales Rep. Mitos Magsaysay on Monday. 

The Liberal Party (LP) is willing to take in Pimentel if he leaves the UNA ticket.

Koko to consult supporters

In an interview with ANC after UNA's meeting, Pimentel said he will consult with his “core leaders and supporters” to discuss his next move.

“I have not yet made a final decision. I need to consult my family and also political supporters in and out of PDP-Laban...All these are new to me. I need to consult with people and I will make up my mind after hearing their inputs,” he said.

Pimentel said he has forgiven Zubiri for having deprived him of his “rightful” place in the Senate for four years, but this does not mean he has to run with Zubiri on the same ticket.

He said he does not have any problems with Zubiri running again, but it should be with a different political party.

“I have forgiven him. I shake his hands when I see him. I treat him as a friend," he said. “I’m questioning the definition of forgiveness. Does forgiveness mean you have to reward him by running with him?

“If evidence crops up in the [alleged fraud in the 2007 elections], this do not mean I will not file a case against him. I’m also a lawyer and I want to achieve justice in my lifetime.”

Pimentel said he will need one to two weeks to come up with a final decision.

“I was first in UNA. Yet, he’s been going around with UNA. He’s disrupting my plans with UNA,” Pimentel added.

He earlier said he would resign from UNA if it will decide to field Zubiri, who is ranking high in polls compared to Pimentel.

UNA spokesmen earlier asked not to comment on Pimentel’s possible resignation and the effect this would have on the party.