MANILA, Philippines – Resigned Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri on Wednesday urged Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III to stop calling him a cheat amid a brewing word war over Zubiri’s inclusion in the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) senatorial ticket.
Zubiri said he is offended by the senator’s choice of words, especially since there is no proof that he cheated in the 2007 senatorial election.
“I am very saddened by the fact that he is calling me different names, he is insulting me on national TV. Last night, he called me mandaraya (cheater). Wala naman siyang pruweba, wala naman siyang ebidensya. Even the Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes, who was his lawyer in 2007, has said publicly na walang kasalanan si Migz Zubiri,’ he told ANC “Headstart” host Karen Davila.
Zubiri said he takes offense at Pimentel’s accusation that “Zubiri robbed me of 4 years of being a senator.”
He likened his position to that of Vice-President Jejomar Binay who is also facing an election protest filed by defeated vice-presidential bet Mar Roxas.
'Just doing my job'
“Karen, I was just doing my job. The Supreme Court told me: ‘You’re the senator. You work.’ And Comelec proclaimed me. So I worked. I worked to the best of my ability,” he said.
Zubiri and Pimentel have been at odds since 2007 after Zubiri got the 12th and last slot in the Senate polls. Pimentel protested Zubiri’s victory before the Supreme Court and the Senate Electoral Tribunal, claiming massive cheating in parts of Mindanao.
Last year, Zubiri resigned from the Senate after former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his right-hand man, Norie Unas, revealed that 2007 election returns in Maguindanao were manufactured.
In the interview, Zubiri said he actually did Pimentel a favor when he resigned even though electoral fraud had not yet been proven in the 2007 election. He said he resigned despite the objections of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Francis Esccudero.
“I took it upon myself to do the most difficult sacrifice any senator or any politician could do: resign from public office,” he said.
“I did one favor for him. Despite all the people who told me not to resign, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile got mad at me 3 times and told me not to think about it…I disregarded that because it is important for me mapanatiling malinis ang aking pangalan at walang bahid dungis ang aking pangalan, that my integrity and dignity remain intact, that I will never accept that kind of cheating.”
Zubiri denied knowing about the 2007 poll fraud, saying that there were 11 other bets in Team Unity with him. Among the TU bets who got elected in 2007 were Senators Ralph Recto, Tito Sotto, Joker Arroyo and Edgardo Angara.
Furor over UNA
Pimentel is currently protesting Zubiri’s inclusion in the UNA senatorial slate, saying that he cannot be seen on the same ticket with “the biggest beneficiary of poll cheating in 2007.”
“My advocacy is electoral integrity. I will lose all credibility if I run in a Senate ticket with Migs Zubiri [who] let us say was not a perpetrator of fraud but was the biggest beneficiary of fraud in 2007. I am not saying he shouldn’t run. The problem is I cannot run with him in the same senatorial ticket,” he told ABS-CBN’s “Umagang Kay Ganda.”
The senator said Zubiri’s actions since 2007 do not show innocence in poll fraud. He said Zubiri defended the results of the Maguindanao election before the Supreme Court and in the Senate Electoral Tribunal and even filed a counter-protest to his poll protest.
He said Zubiri “did everything to cover up the cheating in Maguindanao in 2007.”
He also denied that Zubiri has been cleared in the 2007 poll fraud since the prescriptive period for filing cases against poll cheats has yet to expire.
Pimentel also brought up the testimony of Senate witness Ahmad Mamucao who earlier said he delivered blank ballots, election returns, and certificates of canvass to a warehouse owned by Zubiri in Maramag, Bukidnon.
For his part, Zubiri said Mamucao is a discredited witness since he allegedly offered his services as an election operator. He said he turned down Mamucao who later went to Pimentel.
Zubiri admitted that his family owns a warehouse in Maramag but said the property was being used by the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines (ABAP). He said he has an affidavit from ABAP denying that the alleged delivery of blank election paraphernalia in 2007 took place.
“He has no evidence. He cannot file a case because there is no corroborative evidence,” he said.
In the interview, Zubiri said he is not losing hope that he and Pimentel can work together as a team on the UNA slate. After all, he said there are very few senators who hail from the Visayas or Mindanao.
“I can always say that I support Koko’s electoral advocacy. If he does not want me on the same stage, we can split up,” he said.