Nene Hits Zubiri’s UNA Entry

MANILA, Philippines --- Former Senate President Aquilino "Nene" Q. Pimentel Jr., founder of the PDP-Laban party, fired a broadside on Tuesday at the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) for accepting former Sen. Juan Miguel "Migz" Zubiri in its 2013 senatorial slate and thus rejecting the plea of his son, Sen. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III - who is already in its senatorial slate - not to accept Zubiri in its fold.

The effect of the elder Pimentel's bitter statement against the UNA leadership headed by Vice President Jejomar Binay, former President Joseph Estrada and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile may force the younger Pimentel to join the administration Liberal Party (LP) instead.

"The UNA decision to accommodate Migz Zubiri as a senatorial candidate weakens its pretentions that it will set the tone for the reformation of our country's corrupt political system," the elder Pimentel said.

"By welcoming Migz into its fold, UNA has unequivocally put itself on the side of electoral cheats and sends the message that it will do anything to propel itself into power," he said.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, a ranking LP leader, had said the doors of the LP are open to the younger Pimentel, now the PDP-Laban president, should he leave the UNA.

The younger Pimentel had filed charges of election fraud against Zubiri, saying he (Pimentel) was the rightful winner in the 2007 senatorial elections. He eventually won, forcing Zubiri to give up his Senate post late last year. The tenure of the winners in that Senate electoral contest ends on June 30, 2013.

After the UNA leadership announced its decision to accept Zubiri into its fold last Monday, the young Pimentel said he would consult with his party mates at PDP-Laban and his personal supporters and friends to discuss his next move.

He had said that he could not in conscience be with Zubiri in the same slate and campaign against electoral fraud. He had claimed Zubiri, an ally of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, robbed him of his senatorial post for about five years.

The elder Pimentel did not mince his words when he stated that UNA's attitude would set back the cause of the transformation of the country that some political figures mouth so easily to lure the gullible to board their bandwagon.

"To UNA, the principles that Koko Pimentel is fighting for clean and honest elections, transparency and accountability especially of public officials are useless and irrelevant. And should be substituted by what is politically practical and expedient," he said.

"It seems that money is now the principal measure of what is right and good in the political arena. But if UNA will not stand for principles, who will? And if not now, when?" he asked.

The Pimentel father and son are both bar topnotchers.

The political alliance between the elder Pimentel and Binay goes back to the Marcos martial law years. In his last few years at the Senate, the elder Pimentel and Enrile had been at loggerheads.

Zubiri immediately thanked UNA after it decided to accept him in its senatorial slate, while the younger Pimentel congratulated him.

"Congratulations kay Migz Zubiri. At although nauna ako sa UNA, mukhang siya ang maiiwan sa UNA (And although I came in first at UNA, it looks like he'll be the one left at UNA)," Pimentel told reporters after attending San Juan City's celebration of Independence Day, where he was invited as a guest speaker.

Meanwhile, a Malacañang official said yesterday the Liberal Party (LP) will welcome Pimentel in its fold should he decide to join the party.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, however, expressed hope that the conflict involving Pimentel and the UNA will be settled first, adding the ruling party does not want to interfere with the other party's internal affairs.

Pimentel, in a separate media interview at the Palace, however, said he will "disregard" the offers from other political parties for the meantime. He said he intends to consult his party mates at PDP-Laban about his next move.

But Estrada expressed doubts about Pimentel's willingness to resolve his concerns against Zubiri.

"How are we going to talk to him if he does not want to talk? How could we meet if he does not want to meet me?" asked Estrada.

Estrada serves as the chairman emeritus of Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP), which formed UNA with Binay's PDP-Laban.

Earlier, Estrada accepted Zubiri into the PMP's fold, drawing opposition from Pimentel, president of PDP Laban.

UNA senatorial bet and San Juan Rep. Joseph Victor "JV" Ejercito said Pimentel was obviously hurt by the coalition's decision to include Zubiri in its senatorial slate.

"We have been with him (Pimentel) in the opposition for a long time. In fact, he made the research that pushed President Erap to run in 2010 (presidential elections). We want him to stay," Ejercito said.

Binay said he will respect whatever decision Pimentel will make - whether he would stay with UNA or not.

"Desisyon niya yun and we respect kung ano ang magiging desisyon niya (It would be his decision and we will respect his decision)," said Binay, when sought for comment.

"Senator Zubiri is a PMP member and UNA is not PDP-Laban alone. It (UNA) is a coalition and has a collective leadership that decides," the Vice President added.

"At present, he (Pimentel) remains with UNA and we will wait for his decision before UNA discuss at the matter," Binay concluded.

Last Monday, UNA announced the formal acceptance of Zubiri as part of its senatorial slate, along with Representatives Gwendolyn Garcia and Mitos Magsaysay.

UNA spokesperson JV Bautista said the decision to include Zubiri was decided by the coalition leaders after he was formally endorsed by Estrada, PMP stalwart. (With reports from Genalyn D. Kabiling, Anna Liza T. Villas, Rio Rose Ribaya, and Madelynne Dominguez)