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MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Migz Zubiri stays.
Former President Joseph Estrada will not drop resigned Sen Juan Miguel Zubiri from the senatorial slate of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) despite the strong objection of Sen Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III. Estrada is one of the leaders of UNA, along with Vice President Jejomar Binay, and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.
In an interview with ANC, the ABS-CBN News Channel, Estrada reacted to Pimentel’s letter to him hinting that the senator might leave the alliance over Zubiri’s inclusion.
Estrada reiterated his statement that Zubiri was not involved in cheating in the 2007 senatorial polls, contrary to the claims of Pimentel. He even cited Zubiri's strong survey showing as proof that the public does not believe the former senator had a hand in cheating.
“If he were part of it, he should have been included in the list of people indicted [for electoral sabotage], in the list of accused. Because he was not part of it, that means he might have benefitted from the cheating of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo but he had no knowledge of their plan," Estrada said.
Estrada urged Pimentel to forgive Zubiri, in the same way that the former President forgave his father, former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr.
“I was instrumental in making his father Senate President, but he turned his back against me in the impeachment. In fact, he was holding the microphone when Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was taking her illegal oath as president. What happened? But I forgot all this, what he did to me and that is already an open book.”
Estrada added, “Mahatma Gandhi has a famous quotation, ‘The weak cannot forgive but forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.’”
Pimentel’s objection to Zubiri is rooted in the electoral protest he filed against him. He claims Zubiri was part of cheating in 2007, depriving him of his Senate post until last year.
The Senate Electoral Tribunal declared Pimentel the winner of the protest in August 2011. Zubiri resigned days before this.
Pimentel maintained his objection to Zubiri even if he is president of Binay's Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), a coalition partner of Estrada's Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) under UNA.
In May, Estrada welcomed Zubiri as a PMP member.
‘If Koko leaves, what can we do?’
Estrada stressed that accepting Zubiri into UNA does not mean he is in favor of cheating.
“I myself was cheated when I ran for mayor [of San Juan]. My best friend Fernando Poe Jr, he was also cheated. It does not mean that we are condoning electoral fraud.”
Estrada said he was saddened by Pimentel’s letter.
“Koko is an asset to the party, the coalition and I salute him for being a bar topnotcher, he is even my godson, of course I love him somehow.
He added, “I wanted to talk to him to appease him so our ticket will be complete because if he leaves, he will be a big loss to UNA. I hope Koko will reconsider and be the bigger man.”
Estrada, however, said that if Pimentel does not budge, UNA will be left without a choice.
“We have the executive committee composed of the Vice President Jojo Binay, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile. We’ll decide on that but if he really wants to leave, what can we do? We cannot stop him.”
Zubiri said he will leave it up to the UNA leadership to resolve the issue because he is a "team player."
"The problem is not with me," Zubiri told ANC.
Abad: Koko is welcome to join LP
Speculation is rife Pimentel will run under President Benigno Aquino III's Liberal Party (LP) if he bolts UNA. The senator, however, has made no indication he is joining the LP.
Yet in a text message to Rappler, LP stalwart and Budget Secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad said Pimentel is welcome to the LP.
"LP and PDP have had a long history of principled partnership, especially under the leadership of former Sen Nene Pimentel, highlighted by our common struggle against the Marcos dictatorship and the dismantling of the US bases," Abad said.
Abad added, "So if Sen Koko Pimentel decides to join the LP or coalesces PDP that he heads as president, the LP will welcome him. But in deference to UNA, we will not interfere with the ongoing differences between Koko and Migz but we do have to take note that time is of the essence."
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