MANILA, Philippines – A spokesman for the United Nationalist Alliance on Tuesday revealed leaders of the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino insisted on keeping former senator Juan Miguel Zubiri in UNA's senatorial slate.
UNA spokesman JV Bautista said top leaders of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) and the PMP had a spirited discussion on Sen. Koko Pimentel's petition to reject Zubiri as an UNA candidate.
Bautista said the decision to keep Zubiri came down to former president Joseph Estrada asserting the PMP's right to nominate its own candidates in the UNA lineup.
“You cannot disrespect your partner… Migs Zubiri applied with the PMP, was examined by PMP and was accepted by PMP,” Bautista told ANC’s “Headstart.”
“PMP stood by that and asserted its prerogative to name and endorse its own candidates for the UNA senatorial slate. That was exercised and no less than former president Estrada made the endorsement to include Migs Zubiri in the UNA senatorial slate,” he said.
Pimentel, the president of PDP-Laban, has said he does not want Zubiri in the UNA ticket because he benefited in poll cheating in 2007. The senator said he is even willing to lose UNA's backing if it keeps Zubiri as a candidate.
Zubiri and Pimentel have been at odds since the 2007 election, which saw Zubiri win the 12th and last senatorial slot over Pimentel. Last year, Zubiri resigned his post due to widespread allegations of cheating in Maguindanao. His resignation and the Senate electoral tribunal’s own decision on Pimentel’s electoral protest allowed the latter to take his Senate seat.
Bautista said the UNA leaders tackled Pimentel’s request for 30-45 minutes before issuing its decision on Zubiri.
“It was a spirited discussion. It was not frivolously set aside. It was not disregarded by UNA leadership. It was painstakingly taken up. Now, of course the final decision boiled down to the prerogative of a party to endorse and nominate its own member. PMP asserted – we cannot be dictated upon by the other party,” he said.
He also said Zubiri’s 4-year stint in the Senate allowed him to forge friendships with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada.
'Koko shouldn’t focus on poll cheating'
Bautista said the PMP also insisted that Zubiri is innocent of the charges of electoral cheating.
He echoed Estrada’s previous statement that Zubiri could not be guilty of poll sabotage because he was never charged by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
“PMP answered it this way – if Migs Zubiri was in fact or indeed involved in electoral sabotage, he would have been one of the accused in the case, the criminal case, against Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and former Comelec chief Benjamin Abalos. Because he is one of the big personalities he would have been investigated and charged but he is not an accused,” he said.
Bautista said Binay also offered the possibility that Pimentel remain on the UNA ticket without having to campaign with Zubiri.
“There was an offer – you don’t have to stand on the same platform with Migs Zubiri. You can stand with one group and Zubiri will be in another group. If you are speaking, we can ask Migs Zubiri not to arrive yet during the course of your speech and probably Zubiri, while he is speaking you will be advised not to come yet. It can be adjusted,” he said.
The UNA spokesman said Pimentel should not harp on the issue of electoral cheating especially after Comelec automated the 2010 elections.
“Election fraud is a finished issue. Those accused of it are in jail. Abalos is in jail. GMA is in jail. Now do you really have to make it a personal crusade? Naka-PCOS na tayo. Automated na tayo, for Christ’s sake. Why make it the end-all and be-all of your campaign message?” Bautista said.
He also said former president Estrada has been asking Pimentel to meet with him so they could discuss Zubiri’s inclusion in the ticket. So far, he said Pimentel has yet to take up Estrada’s offer.
UNA lacks principles?
Meanwhile, Bautista also brushed aside criticisms that UNA is a coalition without principles for accepting candidates who had strong ties with former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Aside from Zubiri, who was personally endorsed by Mrs. Arroyo in 2007, other UNA candidates who have ties with the former president are Zambales Rep. Mitos Magsaysay and Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia.
Bautista said they accepted Magsaysay and Garcia as candidates because of their track records.
“Maybe they have worked with the former GMA government but they are not tainted with any issue of graft and corruption and that is the number 1 rule, Former president Erap was insistent on that… They have no participation in any of the irregularities and anomalies of the former regime,” he said.
Bautista said Garcia was able to spur Cebu into growth and progress while Magsaysay is one of the outstanding lawmakers in the House of Representatives.
He said Magsaysay has strong support not just in Zambales but in the western part of Visayas and parts of Mindanao.
Other candidates included in the UNA lineup are re-electionist Sen. Gregorio Honasan, Cagayan Rep. Jackie Enrile, San Juan Mayor JV Ejercito and businessman Joey de Venecia.
Chiz, Villar, Cayetano invited
Bautista said UNA is also open to inviting other candidates such as re-electionist Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano and Las Piñas Rep. Cynthia Villar.
He said the two candidates, both members of the Nacionalista Party, “personify the kind of leadership that UNA stands for…hardworking and a leadership that can deliver the goods.”
He also said the coalition is waiting for the right time to announce the inclusion of Sen. Loren Legarda after she expressed willingness to join the UNA ticket.
Bautista said re-electionist Sen. Francis Escudero is more than welcome to join UNA despite reports that he will have to give way to Sen. Jinggoy Estrada in the 2016 vice-presidential election.
"This is unsolicited advice for my friend, Chiz. I think it would be better for him to run with UNA. You know, UNA is a party of the future. The 2013 election, insofar as UNA is concerned, is only a curtain-raiser," he said.
He also revealed UNA’s new slogan: UNA sa pag-unawa, UNA sa gawa.
“It captures the sentiment of our being pro-poor, pro-masses…It also captures the go-getter attitude, the performance and achievement attitude of its leaders,” Bautista said.