MANILA, Philippines - Former Senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Jr. immediately came to the defense of his son, Koko, when the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) decided to field Koko and his rival, Juan Miguel Zubiri, together for the senatorial elections in 2013.
The older Pimentel said: “By welcoming Migs into its fold, UNA has unequivocably put itself on the side of electoral cheats and sends the message that it will do anything to propel itself into power.”
The issue of poll fraud is one of the main themes in Nene Pimentel’s political history. Based on his biography posted in the Senate website, he “was cheated of victory in the 1995 senatorial race through the Dagdag/Bawas scheme.”
The term dagdag-bawas became part of everyday lexicon during those times after Pimentel made the issue his battle-cry against then re-electionist Senator Juan Ponce Enrile.
The case stemmed from the protest he filed before the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) against Enrile immediately after the mid-term polls. He alleged that some of his votes were credited to Enrile.
After the revision of ballots by the electoral tribunal, Enrile dropped in the ranking to 15th from his then 11th spot. SET denied Enrile’s motion for reconsideration, forcing the Pimentel to go to the Supreme Court.
The high court, in 2004, decided the petition was moot and academic since Pimentel had already joined the Enrile in the Senate after winning a six-year term in 1998.
Enrile, meanwhile, lost a re-election bid in May 2001. Some political pundits claimed that his poor showing was because of his vote not to open the bank documents in the impeachment trial of deposed President Joseph Estrada.
On the other hand, the Senate website said of Pimentel: “In the 1998 elections, convinced of the man’s integrity and inspired by his passion for truth and electoral reform, voters resoundingly returned Pimentel to the Senate for a six-year term.”
Fast forward to 2013 elections
The same fate has befallen Pimentel’s son. Koko has always believed that Zubiri knew of the electoral cheating in 2007, which led him to lose a Senate post.
In August 2011, SET proclaimed Koko the real winner in the 2007 elections after Zubiri resigned.
The latter has always maintained, however, that he has no knowledge of the poll fraud.
In his column published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer immediately after Zubiri resigned, political analyst John Nery said: “For those of us with a long memory, Juan Ponce Enrile is the unlikely but altogether fitting benchmark for Juan Miguel Zubiri’s act of resignation. Even though Enrile did not lose the first dagdag-bawas case filed against him by Koko Pimentel’s father, involving allegations of cheating in the 1995 elections, Enrile did own up to massive election fraud—in 1986, during the heady four days of the Edsa revolution, when circumstance and strategic candor made him admit that he had cheated for Ferdinand Marcos in the snap election.”
Neri said Zubiri may not have cheated, but “he certainly benefited from election fraud.”
Today, the rivalry between younger Pimentel and Zubiri has come alive again after UNA decided to field both.
The Erap factor
In a recent press conference, UNA spokesman JV Bautista said the alliance decided to field Zubiri at the behest of Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino stalwart, former President Joseph Estrada.
“Insofar as [Koko], we respect his personal sentiments and feelings, but the alliance will not delve into personalities here…the decision will now be left to Koko,” Bautista said, insisting they don’t want to speculate on the next decision of Pimentel.
Koko Pimentel earlier threatened to leave the coalition if Vice President Jejomar Binay will not drop Zubiri from its senatorial ticket for 2013.
Pimentel is the president of PDP-Laban, while Zubiri took his oath before Estrada’s political party. UNA is the coalition of both political parties.
Estrada, in an interview, said he remembers being “instrumental” in positioning Nene Pimentel to the Senate President post before.
“But he turned his back against me [during Arroyo’s rise to presidency]…Now, he’s against Arroyo. I have forgotten all that he did to me,” he said, as he asked the younger Pimentel to forgive Zubiri as well.
Estrada also noted Zubiri has been placing high in surveys.
Based on the May 20-26 Pulse Asia survey, Koko ranked 6th to 9th compared to Zubiri’s 9th to 13th.
The issue is at a standstill as Pimentel has yet to decide if he will leave UNA or not.
There's a chance history might just repeat itself, this time for Koko, if he continues his advocacy against Zubiri. Filipino voters tend to sympathize with victims of poll fraud.