MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) - It's final. Senator Aquilino 'Koko' Pimentel will not be running under the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) coalition.
After a meeting with former President Joseph Estrada of the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP), Pimentel said he has decided to run without the help of the UNA after the latter included his rival former Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri in its line-up.
UNA is a coalition between the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Laban (PDP-Laban) of Vice-President Jejomar Binay and Estrada's PMP. Zubiri is one of the candidates of PMP in the UNA coalition.
Pimentel said he will still be running independently under the PDP-Laban. It will now be his party mate, Joey de Venecia, who will represent him when it comes to coalition matters.
Pimentel is the president of the PDP-Laban.
Estrada, who had sought to keep both Pimentel and Zubiri as UNA candidates, told Pimentel he respects his decision.
Pimentel said he is open to being adopted by other political parties.
He said he hopes he can still win a Senate seat even without UNA's backing.
"It's good to have the backing of these personalities [Binay and Estrada], but in a senatorial contest, you only need a certain percentage to win," he said.
Pimentel said he will not be criticizing the UNA coalition in next year's election.
Zubiri edged out Pimentel in the 2007 senatorial race, but evidence about poll fraud in Mindanao prompted Zubiri to quit his post in favor of Pimentel in 2011.
Pimentel said he cannot run in the same ticket as Zubiri.
In an interview with radio dzMM, Estrada said he is disappointed that Pimentel decided not to stay with UNA, but “I respect his decision.”
He said he remains proud of Pimentel. “Sabi ko sa aking inaanak, at ipinagmamalaki kong inaanak ko sya, nakakapanghinayang at malaking bagay na nawala sya sa UNA dahil magaling syang senador at Bar topnotcher.”
He said he made an effort to keep Pimentel but the latter insisted he cannot work alongside Zubiri.
Estrada said he had Zubiri’s supposed involvement in the electoral fraud investigated but found none.
Estrada also said he asked for the blessing of UNA’s leaders before he accepted Zubiri into the PMP fold.
Asked for his advise for Pimentel, who may now be adopted by the administration Liberal Party, Estrada said: “He does not need my unsolicited advise, I respect his decision.”
He said Pimentel did not mention his plans when they met. “He said he’s going to be an independent PDP-Laban.”
Binay says he'll talk to Pimentel
Meantime, Binay, chairman of PDP-Laban, expressed sadness over Pimentel's decision to leave UNA, but hinted that all is not lost.
In an interview with ANC, Binay said “I’m sad, but that’s his decision and I respect his decision.” Nonetheless, he said “we will still talk when I come home.”
Binay said Pimentel will now become an “independent PDP-Laban.” He said: “Let us separate the personality of Senator Pimentel and the party.”
He said PDP-Laban will remain committed to UNA.
Binay is currently in Saudi Arabia to convey the Philippines’ condolences on the passing of Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud. He will arrive July 7.
JPE offers to still help
In a separate interview with reporters, one of the coalition’s leaders promised to extend his help to Pimentel if asked.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, an official of the PMP, said, “if he wants my support, I will help him as much as I would help the others without abandoning my obligations to my party and my coalition.”
He said he will still endorse Pimentel’s candidacy. “Why not? We can endorse multiple candidates. It depends upon the people.”
Nonetheless, Enrile does not see UNA’s line-up getting affected by Pimentel’s exit.
“Hindi kami mawawalan. Kaya lang, senator na sya, and he has a good standing in the service. We have to accept the fact that he will be a loss to us because he’s already a senator and he’s within the possible 13 winners,” he said. -- with a report from Ruby Tayag, dzMM