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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

National politics heats up early with break-away of Koko Pimentel, who very likely would run with LP. Migz Zubiri’s surprising strength among UNA Big Guns. Early filing of candidacies (Oct. 1-5) owing to the printing of automated election ballots. The moment of truth for both political power groups, LP and UNA.


Koko pimentel III

With the elections of 2013 only eleven months away, national politics is fast heating up. The pull-out of Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, president of PDP-Laban, from the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), as he recently announced, has far-reaching repercussions on our political scene---especially on the rivalry for supremacy between the ruling LP and UNA.


For one thing, its quite odd that Koko did not wait for the arrival of Vice President Jejomar Binay, currently in Europe, before making that decision to bolt UNA. VP Binay, who founded and chairs UNA, is also the chair of the PDP-Laban. One would think that young Pimentel would have squared out first with his party chair his problem with former Sen. Migz Zubiri’s being in the UNA senatorial line-up, before firming up his plan to quit it. 


Instead Pimentel went to the residence of former President Joseph Estrada (accompanied by his spiritual adviser, retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz) last Thursday morning to talk things over with Estrada. But it seemed that his mind was already made up about bolting UNA and obviously all Erap could do was to wish him luck. 


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The reason Koko offered in media for leaving UNA is that he cannot see himself standing in the same campaign platform as Zubiri, whom he accuses of having cheated him of four years in the Senate and participating in the Arroyo administration’s alleged electoral machinations that benefited him.  Koko insists it’s a matter of principles and he’s being congratulated in various quarters for it; there are critics, however, who feel he's trying to catch up on headlines he missed bagging in the past four years.


One media report carried intimations that Koko plans to run as an independent; but in this country no one would ever win as independent unless it's Miriam. The likelihood, however, is that pragmatism would get the better of Koko and he’ll join the Liberal Party as “guest candidate.” But such move would likely take away much of the burnish from his principled stand.  In fact, some would consider it as rank opportunism.


The thing about the Pimentels is that they'll always be pere et fils---a package deal. You readers will recall that many weeks ago I foresaw this problem of the Pimentels peeling away from UNA. I wrote that former Sen. Nene had quit the University of Makati, where VP Binay had last year inaugurated a local governance foundation in Nene’s honor, that the latter would run.




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Migz Zubiri

What surprises me at this juncture is the strength of Migz Zubiri. What just happened was that Koko Pimentel made UNA choose between him and Migz and the three Big Guns of UNA--- namely, VP Binay, former President Erap and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile---obviously chose Migz who had months ago joined the Partido ng Masang Pilipino of which Erap is president and JPE is chair, over Koko. 


Recall that JPE didn’t want Migz to resign his Senate seat last year, as he seems quite fond of the young senator.  JPE's sentiment is understandable, for Migz can be quite disarming. 

On the other hand, it’s evident that Estrada doesn’t have much love lost for  former Sen. Nene, owing perhaps to the fact that Nene presided at the Senate impeachment trial of Erap and in the latter's perception, he didn’t lift a finger to save him (though it was the second people power that actually ousted Erap).


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Recall that when Zubiri joined the PMP at Erap’s invitation, with full backing of JPE, Koko registered his protest, but it appeared to have been salved---for the sake of unity between the two sons of Mindanao. Soon the names of five early birds were floated for the UNA senatorial line-up, namely, JV Ejercito, Jack Enrile, Joey de Venecia, Gringo Honasan and Koko. So far it was ok. 


But when Migz’ name was mentioned as additional candidate at the oath-taking of Gwen Garcia of Cebu and Mitos Magsaysay of Zambales, Koko began to kick harder. After last June 11's executive-committee meeting of UNA, where Gwen, Mitos and Migz were finally announced as senatorial candidates, Koko wrote a letter to the coalition’s Big Guns which was coursed through the media. Then Sen. Nene came in to protest for his son. 

All hell broke loose.  


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There’s a report that young Pimentel would take a leave of absence from PDP-Laban where he’s president, while sorting out his political plans, but  this is being denied by party members. But with his announcement that he's quitting UNA, the doors of the LP, which is quite starved for winnable senatorial candidates, not surprisingly swung opened and its leaders quickly welcomed Pimentel to the fold. 


 Actually leaders of UNA are expecting him to sign up in the LP, as that would be a matter of necessity for him now---survival.  It would open Koko up to the funds the LP would be awash with (using the gargantuan CCT funds of nearly P50 billion, as House Minority leaders fear)---and of course, the PCOS machines that Comelec is relentlessly pushing, and generally perceived to favor administration candidates. 


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But how does one resolve the fact that the head of the PDP-Laban---which is one of the three legs on which the UNA stool rests---is joining the LP and campaigning for the P-Noy administration that’s backing it up? The popular perception is that VP Binay, now still in collaboration with P-Noy, would end up at cross-purposes with him as the 2013 elections approach. Binay has to capture the Senate then, if he's going to bag the presidency in 2016.


Some PDP-Laban members I spoke to are unhappy over the split within their party, but they’re confident that the day after the May 13, 2012 elections, Koko, by then re-elected, would return to the party as if nothing had happened.


Only in da Pilipins?


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With Koko’s impending alliance with the LPs, the race to capture the big senatorial stars into the parties' respective firmaments has heated up. The prize catch of both sides, because they are topping the surveys, are Chiz Escudero and Loren Legarda. In fact, there’s talk that the LPs are ready to endorse all the reelectionist senators, which include also Alan Peter Cayetano, Gregorio Honasan, Antonio Trillanes and Koko, as “common candidates.” 


This would be a great convenience to the reelectionists, but mighty unfair to the new candidates.  


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Toby Tiangco as witness for CJ Corona
But this concept of “common candidates” may not work in the end, for as Rep. Toby Tiangco of Navotas-Malabon, the Secretary-General of UNA, points out, the time to firm up the respective line-ups is fast approaching---due to the re-adoption by Comelec of the PCOS-run automated election system for 2013.  As Rep. Tiangco, who has been with the PMP since 2001, explains it, voting by means of shading of names in the AES necessitates the early printing of candidates’ names in the ballots---unlike in the old manual system, where one writes out the names of his candidates.


Because of this need for early printing, the filing of candidacies will be done from Oct. 1-5 this year, unlike in past elections when filing would be around February.  


The moment of truth for everyone.











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