MANILA, Philippines - The inclusion of former senator Juan Miguel Zubiri in the United Nationalist Alliance senatorial lineup has sparked a word war between the UNA coalition and former Senate President Aquilino "Nene" Pimentel Jr.
Pimentel fired the first salvo against UNA, saying the coalition has "unequivocably put itself on the side of electoral cheats and sends the message that it will do anything to propel itself into power."
He said accommodating Zubiri, who is accused of benefiting from poll fraud, "weakens [UNA’s] pretentions that it will set the tone for the reformation of our country’s corrupt political system."
"It seems that money is now the principal measure of what is right and good in the political arena," he added.
UNA, meanwhile, said it included Zubiri in the senatorial lineup as part of the covenant of unity between the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino and the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban).
UNA spokesman JV Bautista also said the former Senate President "may have overstepped the bounds of civility when he equated the decision of UNA to field Migz Zubiri as placing priority on money over principles."
"We hold the former senator in high esteem but we would like to remind him that unlike the Liberal Party, which has extended an invitation to Senator Koko Pimentel – an invitation that Senator Koko has not declined despite a clear provision in the unity agreement against running with a party not included in the alliance – UNA does not have access to the formidable government resources at LP’s disposal," he said in a statement.
Sen. Koko Pimentel has openly opposed Zubiri's inclusion in the UNA slate, saying he cannot run with a candidate who benefited from poll cheating.
The younger Pimentel, as president of PDP-Laban, was the first to be fielded by UNA, which is an alliance with former President Joseph Estrada’s Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP). Zubiri recently jumped ship from Lakas-CMD to join Estrada.
On Monday morning, Estrada formally endorsed Zubiri to run as senator for UNA.
The younger Pimentel earlier said he will consult with his “core leaders and supporters” to discuss his next move after UNA decided to field Zubiri.
He also said he did not want to think of the feelers sent by LP to join its senatorial slate. "If ever aalis ako sa UNA, it shouldn’t be because there’s a group waiting for me," he said.