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Senator Zubiri resigns amid 2007 poll fraud controversy

August 3, 2011 3:45pm

(Updated 5:23 p.m.) Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, whose victory in the 2007 midterm elections is being questioned before the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET), has resigned from his post. He announced his resignation in a privilege speech Wednesday.

"Without admitting any fault and with my vehement denial of the alleged electoral fraud hurled against me, I am submitting my resignation as a duly elected Senator of the Republic of the Philippines in the election for which I am falsely accused without mercy and compassion," Zubiri said in his speech entitled "Honor and Integrity."

"I am resigning because of these unfounded accusations against me and these issues has (sic) systematically divided our nation and has (sic) cast doubts in our electoral system which has (sic) affected not only myself, this Institution but the public as well," he added.

Zubiri’s victory in the 2007 elections is being contested by Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, who ranked 13th in the 2007 senatorial elections with 10,987,347 votes. Zubiri scraped through at 12th with 11,005,866 votes.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, meanwhile, has yet to accept Zubiri's resignation. "I will study your resignation and make a decision in due time. We are not going to do this rashly," he said after Zubiri's speech.


Family is hurt

In his speech, Zubiri, who comes from a political clan in Bukidnon, said his family was hurt by the "unfounded" accusations against him.

"My political detractors began calling me ugly names and dragging the name of my family in entirety. In other words, Mr. President, the trial by publicity has begun," he said. "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 be tolerated. They do not deserve to suffer the consequences of my position. After all, I am a husband first before a Senator; and I am a father first before a legislator."

Zubiri's wife Audrey, his mother Vicky and father Bukidnon Vice Governor Jose Zubiri were at the gallery during his speech. Also present were election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, former Sen. Richard Gordon, and Valenzuela City Mayor Sherwin Gatchalian.

[FULL TEXT: 'Honor and Integrity': Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri's privilege speech]

Zubiri said he and his family "would never tolerate any form of electoral fraud."

"Sa harap ng Diyos at sa harap ng tao ay nais kong pagtibayin na hindi ako nandaya at wala akong kinausap upang mandaya para sa akin sa halalan. Ang lahat ng akusasyon laban sa akin ay pawang walang katotohanan," he said.

Ready to face SET decision

Zubiri, who was a congressman before he became a senator, said his resignation does not mean he is evading any possible ruling by the SET.

Koko Pimentel calls Zubiri a gentleman, asks SET for a speedy resolution of poll protest

Newly resigned Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri received a pat on the back from his rival Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, who called him a gentleman for his gesture.

Pimentel, who contested Zubiri’s victory in the 2007 senatorial election, said Zubiri showed he still had an element of being a gentleman.

"At least meron pang element of being a gentleman ang naiwan sa kanya. Bow ako sa kanya riyan pero ang sinabi niya baseless ang election fraud charges, mali siya doon... at least may naiwang pagka-gentleman siya para siguro patas ang labanan," he said in an interview on dzBB radio.

"Maganda itong development, at least nakakita tayo ng very rare act," he added.

Zubiri resigned from the Senate on Wednesday over allegations of poll fraud in the 2007 elections. Zubiri had run under the administration party while Pimentel ran under the Genuine Opposition party.

Meanwhile, Pimentel said he plans to ask the Senate Electoral Tribunal to speed up its resolution of the protest he filed now that Zubiri has resigned his post.

"Walang timetable yan pero sa amin siguro as a lawyer ang basa ko ang resignation ng isang pinoprotesta dapat mapabilis sa protesta," he said.

He said he plans to prioritize the justice system, as well as boost science and mathematics in the country, if ever he sits in the Senate.

When asked if he can do it in two years, he said, "Best efforts."

In a separate interview on Wednesday, Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada said Pimentel might be able to sit down as a senator only if Zubiri withdraws his counter protest.

"Maybe in due time, if he (Zubiri) withdraws his protest before the SET. Maybe in due time, Atty. Koko Pimentel might be in the Senate," he said.

De Lima doubtful

Senators may have lauded Zubiri for his move, but Justice Secretary Leila de Lima expressed doubts on his "true motives." She, however, welcomed the resignation as a "pleasant surprise."

"Personally, I have yet to be convinced of the true motive/s behind this surprising development. It's in fact a pleasant surprise for the cause of truth and electoral justice. In any case, Sen. Zubiri's resignation does not automatically mean the assumption of Koko Pimentel to the vacancy, although it can speed up the process," De Lima said in a text message sent to reporters hours after Zubiri delivered his privilege speech.

The DOJ and the Commission on Elections are set to begin a joint inquiry into the alleged poll fraud in the 2004 and 2007 elections.

De Lima added that Zubiri's resignation did not bring closure to the allegations that cheating marred the 2007 allegations.

"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 DOJ/Comelec joint committee," she said. –with Kimberly Jane Tan and Sophie Dedace/KBK, GMA News

"I am resigning not because I wish to evade the decision of the Senate Electoral Tribunal. Handa po akong tanggapin ang anumang hatol mula sa nasabing hukuman," he said. "I have directed my lawyers to make proper and immediate representation before the SET and convey my actuations today, with the end in view of expediting the proceedings and with the prayer that the Tribunal come up with a decision at the soonest possible time."

He likewise addressed his detractors, saying: "As I paraphrase a quote from General Douglas Macarthur that: I am not actually retreating; I am merely advancing in another direction."

Recently, Zaldy Ampatuan, a suspect in the Maguindanao massacre case and suspended Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor, claimed that during the 2007 polls, the camp of then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered the votes for three opposition senatorial candidates in Maguindanao to be transferred to Zubiri.

The claim was corroborated by Lintang Bedol, a former election supervisor in Maguindanao.

At least three resolutions seeking an inquiry into alleged anomalies in the 2007 polls have been filed before the Senate and House of Representatives.

Pimentel, son of former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr., has said that Ampatuan’s revelation justified his electoral protest.

SET decision

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, a member of the SET, told GMA News Online that the body has not yet decided on the protest.

"Ballots (are) still being revised based on Zubiri's counter protest. That's the status of the SET case. No final decision is being prepared at this time," he said on Wednesday.

He likewise refused to comment on what the next procedure is for the vacancy left by Zubiri. "Let's just wait for developments if any," he said.

Zubiri's term was supposed to end in 2013.

Palace, Binay laud Zubiri

Malacañang, meanwhile, lauded Zubiri for his decision to resign, saying it "represents a way forward to start healing the wounds of the past."

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda called on Zubiri to "further demonstrate his willingness to help restore the dignity of our electoral process."

"Any contribution he makes can be vital in restoring the people's mandate and in giving the Filipinos the meaningful electoral reforms they rightfully deserve," Lacierda said in a statement.

For his part, Vice President Jejomar Binay said: "I have the highest respect for Miguel Zubiri and his reason for resigning from the Senate. His resignation helps reinforce the people's faith in our leaders and shows that decency is very much alive in our political institutions. I hope he will continue his advocacies, particularly for the environment, as a private citizen."

Accomplishments

During his speech, Zubiri outlined his accomplishments as a senator. He said that during the 14th Congress, he sponsored, principally authored, co-sponsored and or authored 432 laws out of the 651 laws of national and local significance that they passed.

He likewise said that he continued with his advocacy for the environment during the 15th Congress, citing his efforts for the passage of the National Land Use and the Forest Protection and Sustainable Management Acts. He also cited the various projects which he funded or initiated all over the country

Zubiri also noted that he has had a perfect attendance since he became a member of Congress in 1998.

"I beg the indulgence of our colleagues for romanticizing the past. I just wanted to emphasize that in the last four years, this representation had participated and contributed in the best way I could, and labored diligently and persistently in the legislative mill," he said.

"I fulfilled my job responsibly with honesty, integrity and dignity, and I could proudly look in the eyes of every Filipino who put me in this position, that the trust and confidence they had given me were not put to naught," he added.

Grateful

But aside from the legislative work, Zubiri also spoke about how grateful he was to his fellow senators. He specifically thanked Enrile, Edgardo Angara and Joker Arroyo for being his mentors, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago for being like his mother, and Senators Estrada, Ramon Bong Revilla Jr., Lito Lapid, and Ralph Recto for being like his older brothers in the chamber.

The senator also thanked Sen. Loren Legarda for being his "fellow eco-warrior" and Sen. Sergio Osmena III for being a "friend to the family."

On the other hand, Zubiri commended Senators Vicente Sotto III, Bongbong Marcos, Pia Cayetano, Alan Peter Cayetano, Teofisto Guingona III, Franklin Drilon, and Panfilo Lacson for their work in the Senate.

He even joked that Pangilinan should be the next Agriculture secretary.

Enrile, for his part, said he was sad that the chamber would be losing one of its most "gifted" members but that he commends Zubiri for his decision.

"Never have I thought that I would witness today a very rare show of moral courage when a member of this August chamber in defense of his honor and his family's honor have decided to turn his back on the power of the senator of the Republic of the Philippines," he said.

Estrada, for his part, said that they will have to respect Zubiri's decision.

"That is a very, very painful decision for him to make.It is also a supreme sacrifice on his part to resign as a senator of the republic," he said in a separate interview. - with Amita O. Legaspi/KBK, GMA News
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