MANILA, Philippines — Saying he could no longer take what he described as “unfounded and baseless accusations” against him, Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri shocked the Senate by announcing his resignation during the plenary session Wednesday afternoon.
In an emotional privilege speech, Zubiri said he decided to step down ahead of the decision of the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) in connection with the electoral protest of his closest rival, lawyer Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, because he and his family are already hurt by personal attacks being waged by his political adversaries.
“I am not the only one who feels the hurt because of the personal attacks against me and my family. I could feel how my wife has had sleepless nights, my father, my mother, who has undergone two major brain operations and is now constantly suffering physically and emotionally, together with my siblings who have been hurt and affected by such unfounded and baseless accusations,” said Zubiri.
This is the first time in the history of the Philippine Senate that a sitting senator stepped down due to election controversy.
Let me just emphasize to my detractors as I paraphrase Douglas MacArthur: “I am not actually retreating; I am merely advancing in another direction. It is my humble prayer that this institution allows me to resign with honor and dignity,” Zubiri said.
Zubiri was proclaimed as 12th senator during the 2007 elections with 11,005,866 votes but his victory was contested before the SET by the young Pimentel, son of former Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. The younger Pimentel – who ranked 13th with 10,987,347 votes – is now the President of the PDP-Laban, which was formerly headed by his father.
The young Pimentel claimed to have been a victim of massive cheating, particularly in Maguindanao which was then under the complete control of the Ampatuans.
Zubiri’s resignation does not mean that Pimentel will be automatically declared as replacement for Zubiri as the SET has yet to decide on the election protest.
Zubiri submitted his resignation letter to Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile after delivering his privilege speech. With his resignation, the Senate is now left with only 22 senators.
“I am submitting my resignation as duly elected senator of the Republic of the Philippines in the election for which I am falsely accused without mercy and compassion,” said Zubiri.
Despite his resignation, Zubiri said he will still wait for the decision of the SET.
“I have directed my lawyers to make proper and immediate representation before the Senate Electoral Tribunal and convey my actuations today, with the end in view of expediting the proceedings with the prayer that the tribunal come up with a decision at the soonest possible time,” Zubiri said in his statement.
In defending his stance, Zubiri said: In my family's almost 30 years of public service in Bukidnon, not once has our name been dragged in any election controversy, not once has an election protest ever been filed against us. This you can ask the people of Bukidnon.
“I am not resigning not because I am exhausted from the demands of my calling as legislator. Hindi po ako napagod sa paglilingkod sa inyo.(I am not tired of serving the people)
“I am not resigning not because I wish to evade the decision of SET. Handa ko pong tanggapin ang anumang hatol mula sa nasabing hukuman.(I am ready to accept whatever is the decision of the tribunal),” Zubiri further said.
Rather, I am resigning because of these unfounded accusations against me and these issues has systematically divided our nation and has cast doubts in our electoral system which has affected not only myself, this institution, but the public as well.
Zubiri said no amount of power, position, or wealth is worth sacrificing one's honor and integrity.
“Sa bandang huli, ang legasya ng isang tao ay hindi nasusukat kung gaano kataas ang posisyon ang kanyang narating o ang dami ng kanyang yaman na naipon, kungdi ito ay nasusukat sa kanyang pagpapanatiling malinis at walang bahid dungis ang kanyang sariling dignidad at integridad.( In the end, the legacy of one person cannot be measured in the high position he occupied, nor in the wealth he acquired but on the preservation of his honor, integrity, and dignity),” Zubiri said.
Zubiri repeatedly said the pressure of election controversy on his family and his desire to save the Senate as an institution prompted him to step down.
“During the past few days, however, God reminded me that no matter how much I insist on exclusively carrying the burden of my oath and duties, the truth is that I have a family that suffers with me together with the Senate as an institution, whether I like it or not.
“I have seen and felt the suffering of my family, and from the burrows of my conscience, I could not allow this to happen, let alone to be tolerated.”
After all, I am husband first before a senator, and I am father before a legislator, Zubiri stressed.
Zubiri thanked the Senate and his colleagues, saying, “My highest respect always remains in this institution and the men and women who serve it.”
Pressure for him to resign stepped up when suspended ARMM Governor Zaldy Ampatuan, a suspect in the Maguindanao massacre case, claimed that during the 2007 elections, the Arroyo camp ordered that votes from three senatorial candidates from the opposition in Maguindanao be transferred to Zubiri. Ampatuan’s claim was corroborated by Lintang Bedol , a former election supervisor in Maguindanao.
Zubiri, however, insisted that he was not involved in any alleged cheating and that he was also a victim of so-called election syndicates.
Following the revelations of Ampatuan and Bedol, Koko’s father former, Sen. Pimentel, said the SET should immediately decide on the case adding that his son deserves to take over the seat now occupied by Zubiri.
Political justice demands that Koko should be seated today, not in October or later, said the elder Pimentel who now stands as Koko’s legal counsel.
“Our electoral protest has been vindicated by the recent pronouncement of former Maguindanao provincial election supervisor Lintang Bedol that the 2007 senatorial election was rigged to favor Zubiri,” Pimentel said.
“The revelations of Bedol and Ampatuan, though late in the day, merely validated what we have been saying all along: that Zubiri sits in the Senate on the basis of a fake mandate from manufactured ballots,” Pimentel said.
“I have the highest respect for Miguel Zubiri and his reason for resigning from the Senate,” said Vice President Jejomar C. Binay in a statement.
“His resignation helps reinforce the people's faith in our leaders and shows that decency is very much alive in our political institutions,” added Binay who is currently in Rinkaby, Sweden attending the 22nd World Scout Jamboree.
“I am happy that under my watch as Senate president, I have seen a man standing to uphold the honor of family and himself. I salute you,” Enrile said.
He expressed empathy to what Zubiri felt. “I feel what he (Zubiri) is feeling because I was once vilified in this chamber,” he said.
“We are losing one of the most articulate, promising, and gifted young member of this chamber,” he said.
“This is the first time in my 87 years in this planet that a member of this chamber chose honor ahead of himself. Bayan muna bago sarili,” Enrile said.
Former Senate President Ernesto M. Maceda supported Zubiri’s move.
“He is a good senator. I want to see him back in the Senate and I am here to support him.”
“It is an excellent decision. It puts a closure to the issue against him. This is the best thing that he did to assure the people… will still vote for him when he runs in 2013,” Maceda said.
Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, said he felt sad about Zubiri’s historical decision. “A statesman-like… we all should be persons with integrity,’’ he said.
Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson called Zubiri’s surprise resignation as “admirable and you cannot help but be sentimental also because we have been together for four years as a senator.’’
‘’He approached me. In so many words, he said, ‘Sorry’.” He said he does not know (about the Maguindanao poll fraud) and I believe him, Lacson said.
Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., Zubiri’s colleague in the Lakas-CMD party, considered Zubiri’s resignation a “brave act.”
Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero also expressed sadness because Zubiri’s resignation would diminish the number of members of the Senate, but he respects his act.
Malacañang thanked Zubiri for his service to the nation after he resigned.
Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda urged Zubiri, who ran for senator under the administration party in 2007, to continue to help restore the dignity of the country’s electoral system.
Election lawyer Romeo Macalintal said that resignation only takes place once there is acceptance. “Once it is accepted by a higher authority, that is when the resignation becomes official,” he said.
However, the young Pimentel said Zubiri’s resignation must be reviewed by the legal minds of the Senate. “Mali yung interpretation nila because his resignation is not subject for acceptance of colleagues dahil nagresign na siya sa mga tao,” he said.
Pimentel, however, questioned Zubiri’s reason for his resignation. “Sana tama yung basehan niya for resigning dahil hindi baseless accusations yon. Totoo lahat yon,” he said.
Although he questions Zubiri’s victory, the young Pimentel commended his rival.
“I congratulate Zubiri for this rare and unusual act in Philippine politics,” Pimentel said.
Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes said the young Pimentel cannot automatically assume the post to be vacated by Zubiri, saying the SET has to first resolve his pending election protest.
“Since Zubiri has resigned, he may no longer pursue the revision of votes so it’s likely Koko will win the protest,” he said.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Zubiri will still be hounded by the ghost of the 2007 polls even after he decided to resign.
She said the senator did not put a closure to questions on his victory in the 2007 polls over the young Pimentel.
“Sen. Zubiri’s resignation, instead of foreclosing issues of electoral fraud in the 2007 elections, further throws them wide open for deeper investigation by the soon-to-be constituted Department of Justice-Commission on Elections joint committee,” said De Lima, Pimentel’s former lawyer. (With reports from Sarah H. Velasco, Mario B. Casayuran, Hannah L. Torregoza, Leslie Ann G. Aquino, JC Bello Ruiz, Leonard G. Postrado, and Gernalyn D. Kabiling)
Wednesday, August 03, 2011