Zubiri admits benefiting from cheating, says he didn't know

By David Dizon, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Feb 14 2013 12:08 PM | Updated as of Feb 15 2013 03:31 AM

MANILA – Resigned senator Juan Miguel Zubiri admitted Thursday that he benefited from cheating in the 2007 polls but denied any knowledge about the poll rigging operations in the last senatorial election.

Speaking to ANC, Zubiri said he resigned from his post in August 2011 out of delicadeza after several witnesses came forward to reveal the cheating in Maguindanao. He said other senatorial candidates who won in the 2007 election also benefited from the cheating.

"On the issue that I benefited from the cheating, that’s true and I acknowledge that. I benefited, together with the 12 others who benefited who got in the top 12 but we had no at that time proof, no concrete - how do you say - evidence that it actually happened until these 2 important witnesses came out,” he told Headstart host Karen Davila.

Among those who won in the 2007 senatorial election were Senators Loren Legarda, Francis Escudero, Panfilo Lacson, Manny Villar, Kiko Pangilinan and Benigno Aquino III, who is now President.

Zubiri agreed with Sen. Koko Pimentel's assertion that he was cheated of victory in 2007. "When he says he was cheated, that’s right. I acknowledge he was cheated but not by us. By those people who are in jail right now," he added.

The former senator said he could have stayed at his post until February 2013 if he had not resigned and let the election protest reach its end this month.

He revealed that he was even reprimanded by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile when he announced his plan to resign.

"I had to do what was right out of delicadeza. This is a public trust and it is very important what people perceive you to be. If people see you as a cheater, then no matter how much legislation I pass or how much work I do, people will say 'He doesn't deserve to be there.' It's best to let go and start anew and that's what I'm doing now," he said.

Zubiri, who hails from a powerful political clan in Bukidnon, quit his post in 2011 after former elections supervisor Lintang Bedol and former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy Ampatuan claimed massive cheating in the 2004 and 2007 elections.

His resignation allowed Pimentel, who was ranked 13th in the final senatorial count, to take his place in the Senate.

Zubiri said his resignation gave him a boost in the public eye since it showed he was unwilling to cling to his position amid the cheating allegations.

He also credited his strong standing in the recent pre-election surveys to his performance when he was still a congressman and senator. He said he never missed a session day and helped pass many important pieces of legislation when he was a lawmaker.

“I worked my ass off, I worked my butt off for the last 4 years and yet they just remember Maguindanao. They just associate me with Maguindanao. It was literally driving me bananas. Because napakasayang naman lahat ng ginawa ko nung 4 na taon,” he said.

Zubiri said he has not seen former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo since she was placed under hospital arrest for electoral sabotage and plunder charges.

He also denied being a political butterfly after being part of the "Spice Boys" in Congress that actively campaigned for the removal of President Joseph Estrada in 2001, only to join Estrada’s United Nationalist Alliance senatorial slate last year.

"Balimbing is someone who changed parties 3 or 4 times. I've only changed parties once and the reason was – in 2010, we had local problems with Lakas. They made it an open field, a free-for-all in our province, which angered us. So in 2010, I left Lakas,” he said.

Zubiri said he joined the opposition slate upon the invitation of Sen. Enrile and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, and after receiving forgiveness from former President Estrada.

He said Estrada should be given a break after going through the process of incarceration and sentencing, only to be pardoned by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

“What I like about the former president and his party, their heart is with the masses. It is with the people. It really comes together with my reform agenda,” he said.

How he would have voted

In the interview, Zubiri also answered how he would have voted in several pieces of legislation passed recently by Congress.

He said that while he supports use of condoms and birth control pills, he does not support the age-appropriate sex education clause in the Reproductive Health Law.

“For me, it is something that should be taught when they are a little older, when they are in high school. They should have put an age limit. I feel it would [promote] immorality,” he said.

Zubiri also said he would have supported the sin tax bill of Sen. Ralph Recto instead of the final version submitted by Sen. Franklin Drilon because a lot of industries are affected by the bill. The Recto bill projected revenues of only P15 billion to P20 billion in the first year of the imposition of new taxes while the Drilon version projects sin tax revenues to reach between P40 billion and P45 billion.

“I would have supported the Recto version. It’s not popular and I know a lot of doctors would get upset with me but it’s because I wanted a gradual raise. I am not [for] a one-time sin tax that would have killed the industry,” he said.

Zubiri said he supports Charter change specifically amendments on economic provisions. He also backed stricter controls on gun laws, revealing that he is also a gun owner.

“I don’t carry a firearm at all. I am OK with ownership. Gun ownership is fine but before you buy, you must undergo very intensive training for gun handling. I am for stricter control for permits to carry,” he said.