MANILA, Philippines - If things had turned out differently, Atty. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III said he would have continued his poll protest up to the last day of his supposed 6-year term because he knew that he won the 2007 senatorial election.
Speaking to ANC's Headstart, Pimentel admitted he felt helpless and angry that he had been cheated so that one administration bet, Juan Miguel Zubiri, could take the 12th and last slot in the Senate race.
"I was the son of a sitting senator but I could not fight the corrupt system," he told "Headstart" host Karen Davila.
Pimentel said the poll protest became an obsession that cost him both time and money and even affected his family. However, he said he set clear rules when he first started his protest in 2007.
"I made clear statements that this is a protest to win. Even if I had one day left, I am willing to wait for the judgment to come out," he said.
Pimentel is set to be proclaimed as senator after Zubiri resigned from office last week. Zubiri's resignation four years after the 2007 senatorial poll came amid allegations from former election supervisor Lintang Bedol and suspended Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy Ampatuan that the Maguindanao polls were rigged.
During the 2007 polls, Zubiri received 195,000 votes from a voter population of 204,000 while Pimentel got 67,000.
Commented Pimentel: "You can't get such a high turnout even in a highly urbanized place. You can't get such a high vote conversion even in an urbanized place, maybe a barangay or precinct but not an entire province. The higher you go, the turnout and conversion should be lower."
Pimentel said the Maguindanao poll results also showed other strange inconsistencies.
Nineteen senatorial candidates got 0 votes in the province while one administration bet, Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis "Chavit" Singson, got the second highest number of votes.
Among those who got 0 votes in Maguindanao were Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano and Benigno Aquino III, who is now president of the Philippines.
Pimentel said he will offer himself as a resource person in the Department of Justice and Commission on Elections joint investigation on the manipulation of the 2007 election results.
"The numbers were unbelievable. Garapal talaga yung ginawa nila in 2007. It was unforgivable. The entire province results was manufactured. Sabi ko sobra na yan. Dati precinct level, of 220,000 precincts, 1 to 3 are manipulated. Then they graduated to 1 town. But in 2007, they manipulated an entire province. Sabi ko 'Teka muna, enough is enough.' I have to dedicate the next 6 years of my life fighting this injustice. That would be my contribution and happy na ako dun," he said.
So sure was Pimentel's conviction that he would win the election protest that he decided not to run in the 2010 senatorial election despite surveys that showed he could have placed as high as 4th place.
"If I ran in 2010 and won, I would take this new 6-year term. That would have been abandonment of my pending protest. If I ran, these manipulation of entire provincial results would not be officially heard, no one would be punished," he said.
An act of God
Pimentel said he is thankful that Zubiri resigned his post after realizing that there was massive cheating in the 2007 election.
"It's a difficult decision to resign from a position that he is occupying and I am sure he is enjoying. There is an implied confession right before entire nation that your mandate is tainted. That was the message of his speech. It takes a gentleman to do it," he said.
However, he also noted that Zubiri defended the Maguindanao election results all the way to the Supreme Court until Bedol and Ampatuan surfaced.
"The politician should aspire to win an election fairly, squarely and honestly. If you have no mandate from the people, accept it," he said.
He also joked that during the time of his poll protest, he could not believe that he would "follow the footsteps" of his father, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., who had also lost the 1995 senatorial election allegedly due to cheating.
"I once gave an interview that I want to follow the footsteps of my father. Sabi ko bakit naman sinunod ng Comelec? They cheated me so I would follow the footsteps of my father," he said.
Asked what he would do once he is proclaimed senator, he said he would concentrate on electoral reforms "because I consider myself now an expert on the field."
Pimentel said he will support calls to establish a federal-parliamentary form of government, which is the official stand of his political party. He also pushed for more legislation to help overseas Filipino workers and the youth.
Pimentel thanked the Senate Electoral Tribunal for acting expeditiously on his poll protest.
He also said the recent turn of events is an act of God.
"What is the best proof that this is God's hand? No human being has called to me to collect an 'utang na loob'. So nobody, no person is claiming that he is the one who is giving me this big favor. Therefore, it must be God," he said.