MANILA, Philippines – When Jejomar “Jojo” Binay was not yet the country’s second most powerful man, there was a running joke in his political party. “Kung nakita mo si Senator Nene at Binay ay quorum na,” Binay once told reporters. (If you see Senator Nene and Binay, you already have a quorum.)
Both prominent leaders of the anti-Marcos movement, Binay and former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr go way back. Their political and personal ties span 3 decades and two generations in politics. The two are the stalwarts of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), which turned 30 last February.
Yet the relationship that stood the test of time faces a new challenge. Pimentel’s son, Sen Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, has threatened to bolt Binay’s United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) over the man who he said deprived him of his Senate seat for 4 years: Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri.
UNA is an alliance between PDP-Laban and former President Joseph Estrada’s Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino for the 2013 polls. UNA has welcomed Zubiri in its senatorial slate even if Pimentel III continues to accuse him of cheating during the 2007 polls.
Lately though, the younger Pimentel seemed to have softened his stance. He is now deciding what to do next.
“I want to stay with UNA. I will try to save my membership with UNA because matagal ko nang kasama ang mga iyan.” (I’ve been with those people for a long time.)
The elder Pimentel told Rappler that his family and the Binays are “kindred spirits.” Ties were forged during the anti-Marcos struggle.
In 1978, the late Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr fielded Pimentel Jr to run for the Batasan Pambansa under his party Laban. They were up against then first Lady Imelda Marcos and her slate. After the allegedly fraudulent victory of Mrs Marcos, Pimentel Jr returned to his home province of Cagayan de Oro and founded PDP.
Still, he kept in touch with Laban leaders in Metro Manila, headed by the late Senator Lorenzo Tañada Sr. Aquino was then in exile in the US. With the two parties’ common goals of seeking freedom and promoting good governance, Pimentel Jr proposed a merger in 1982.
“So Senator Tañada agreed and he brought a number of stalwarts of Laban,” recalled Pimentel. They included the late Ramon Mitra Jr and former Sen Teofisto Guingona Jr. “Jojo was a minor player at that time. Bata pa si Jojo noon dito sa (Jojo was still young then here in) Metro Manila politics but Jojo incidentally was very active already.”
Aside from being party mates, Pimentel Jr and Binay were both members of Mabini, a group of human rights lawyers who defended victims of human rights abuses.
“When Cory [Aquino] came into power, I was designated Minister of Local Government,” said Pimentel Jr. “And I had the power to dismiss and appoint local government officials that time. And in Makati, I asked Jojo to become the mayor.”
To this day, Binay credits Cory Aquino and Pimentel Jr for his political break.
Together in the political wilderness
Binay and Pimentel Jr developed their relationship through mutual loyalty. Under the Cory Aquino administration, the original Laban split into factions.
Pimentel Jr said, “Monching Mitra decided to organize their own group, they broke away with Peping Cojuangco and so I did not lift a finger asking people, ‘Hey, don’t leave the party.’ I said those who will stay, those are our partymates and Jojo was one of those who stood by us.”
When Pimentel Jr retired from politics in 2010, he relinquished the chairmanship of PDP-Laban to Binay while his son became party president. Binay in turn created the Pimentel Center for Local Governance in Makati to allow the elder Pimentel to continue his local governance advocacy.
The party owes its longevity to the ties between its two leaders, said JV Bautista, PDP-Laban executive director and UNA spokesperson. Bautista said PDP-Laban was never the party in power but it endured.
“One of the jokes that they have is you can fit the PDP-Laban inside a beetle,” said Bautista. “One joke also is that PDP-Laban can afford to hold its party convention in the most expensive 5-star hotel in Manila because all they need is one table.”
“So those were the times when you can say that the party was in the political wilderness but take note it never disintegrated like other political parties,” said Bautista.
“Jojo Binay and Nene Pimentel embody the merger of PDP and Laban. These two durable leaders were the ones who kept the party alive under so many challenges and difficulties.”
‘There’s a limit’
Asked if Zubiri will be the wedge in the Binay-Pimentel relationship, Bautista said their ties are the same as before.
“As to [Sen Koko’s] relationship with the vice president, I could tell you it’s not simply a political relationship. It’s also a personal one. The vice president considers Senator Koko a son, no less.”
Bautista said Binay is doing various efforts to ensure that the younger Pimentel stays in UNA but refused to discuss these.
On the elder Pimentel, Bautista said Binay still wants him to stay in the Pimentel Center despite his rebuke of UNA. Pimentel Jr has offered to resign from the Center over his objection to Zubiri.
But Pimentel Jr is forthright about where he thinks the relationship with Binay is headed.
“Even relationships of that kind, mayroong hangganan. Ang hangganan doon when principles get trounced by practicality. ‘Di ko na tatanggapin yun. (There is a limit even to relationships of that kind. The limit there is when principles get trounced by practicality. I will not accept that.)
Pimentel Jr said his ties to Binay may be affected to the extent that the Vice President is one of three leaders of UNA’s executive committee.
Asked about what he would like to tell his long-time friend and ally, Pimentel Jr said, “I have only a 4-word wish for him: I wish him well.”
Then he added, “No matter what happens.”
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