MANILA, Philippines --- Former President Joseph "Erap" Estrada is confident the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) will survive without Sen. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III.
Estrada downplayed fears that Pimentel's threat to bolt from UNA if former Senator Juan Miguel "Migz" Zubiri is not stricken off its senatorial slate could weaken the coalition.
"I don't think UNA would disband because of his threat. He might be the only one leaving," Estrada, who is chairman emeritus of Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP), said.
"It's up to him (Pimentel)," he said.
Estrada also defended Zubiri, saying the former senator was never implicated in the alleged vote padding during the counting of results in the 2007 senatorial elections in Mindanao.
He insisted that former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, and their cohorts were the ones behind plans to rig the elections.
Zubiri "should be afforded of benefit of the doubt. Everyone should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. If Migz was part of it, there should have been a case filed against him. But there's none," Estrada said.
He said the executive committee of UNA, an alliance between Estrada's PMP and Vice President Jejomar Binay's Partidong Demokratikong Pilipino (PDP) Laban, will discuss Pimentel's demands on Monday.
On Thursday, Pimentel released a copy of his May 23 letter to Estrada, reiterating his vehement opposition to UNA's acceptance of Zubiri as one of the alliance's candidates next year.
Pimentel told Estrada that he cannot tolerate the candidacy of Zubiri, whom he called a "cheater."
"I am very passionate about electoral reform. There is no way, during the campaign of 2013, that I can avoid attacking cheaters. We will be on the same stage and I will be attacking him (Zubiri)? This is the scenario I am avoiding," Pimentel said.
Pimentel had accused Zubiri of benefiting from the alleged 2007 election cheating.