Deep inside, however, I’m almost certain that the supposed election fraud in Maguindanao will always paint a cloud of doubt on Zubiri’s victory, in the same manner that the “Hello Garci” controversy has spawned questions on Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s legitimacy as president. To his credit, he was humble enough to admit that he will carry this baggage throughout his 6-year term – and maybe beyond, granting the Filipino’s political memory has increased after listening to wiretapped conversations between GMA and an election official. He also promised to work with all other senators regardless of political affiliation.
But it remains to be seen whether Zubiri’s gesture of openness and humility will be enough to offset whatever doubts the public and other senators may harbor on his victory. Nobody knows how the likes of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV will behave towards him and how he will handle it. The two have traded barbs over allegations of how Zubiri benefited from the reported fraud in Maguindanao.
It was Zubiri’s first mistake; he played right into Trillanes’ ballgame and psywar maneuver. By hitting back and calling the leader of the Oakwood Mutiny a “loose cannon” he unknowingly set the tone of their future encounters. Zubiri could be right in his description of the jailed Navy official, but he should have realized that he is dealing with someone who holds wholesale contempt for the Arroyo government and anybody associated with it.
The other members of the opposition in the Senate have also expressed discontent over Zubiri’s proclamation. Senator Panfilo Lacson for instance called it a legitimization of fraudulent votes from Maguindanao, although he urged everybody to ‘respect’ the Supreme Court’s decision junking the petition for a temporary restraining order filed by Zubiri’s rival for the 12th place, Aquilino ‘Koko’ Pimentel III.
Consider too the possible attitude of the elder Pimentel and his influence on fellow senators from the opposition who are the majority in the Senate. I believe, however, that Senator Aquilino ‘Nene’ Pimentel Jr. will always be civil towards Zubiri despite the personal hurt caused by his son’s political debacle, the second in as many tries. But this doesn’t erase the possibility that the Senate will be a hostile ground for the former 3-term congressman of Bukidnon’s third district.
Such hostility can only be blamed on being labeled as the “senator from Maguindanao”. Citing that he got more votes than Pimentel in Cagayan de Oro City, his rival’s hometown, won’t help Zubiri redeem himself. The best that can happen is to have the issue resolved by the Senate Electoral Tribunal, i.e., if Pimentel decides to file a formal protest.
Yet Pimentel might try a political rather than a legal tack given the slow process of resolving election cases. He can leave the issue of Zubiri’s legitimacy hanging as a good takeoff point for another political enterprise. In 2010 maybe?
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno received in 1987 the Jose W. Diokno Award for winning in a national editorial writing contest sponsored by Ang Pahayagang Malaya and the family of the late senator.)