Retiring senators faces new life

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THREE outgoing senators are waking up each day not having to worry about missing an appointment, a welcome development, but a potential senatorial winner is having the worst time of it—and the reason is simply because he could yet lose the 12th slot to a close rival.

Indeed, Senators Loi Ejercito, Serge Osmeña and Ralph Recto are embracing their new and unhurried lifestyle—with Ejercito enjoying playing doctor to her husband, Osmeña wanting to do some fishing, and Recto wanting to “create wealth” that, he says, he has failed to do while in government service for the past 15 years.

But outgoing Bukidnon Rep. Juan Miguel Zubiri would rather not miss the “strategy meetings” with his lawyers and strategists, aware he has to fight tooth and nail to contest the 12th spot with Koko Pimentel, the son of Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel who is holding on to it but who, Zubiri believes, he can beat.

“I am losing sleep. I am more than stressed out everyday, and I am sorry that my distress is taking its toll on my family as a result of the tension building up in me as I continue my daily battle for my rightful seat in the Senate,” Zubiri said.

He says prayers are what keep him together. He has been shuttling to and from Our Lady of Manaoag shrine in Pangasinan and the Pink Sisters in Tagaytay, and asking his family, relatives and friends to pray for him.

WHILE Zubiri is fighting to grab the last seat in the Senate after serving as a congressman, six years in the upper Chamber have been more than enough for Ejercito to prove that the Estradas continue to have a strong following among the masses, an official says.

“Loi has always been uneasy about her being in the Senate. She never wanted to run in the first place; she only ran to disprove claims that her husband [deposed President Joseph Estrada] was deposed by the masses through a popular uprising,” Aquilino Pimentel said.

Ejercito ran in the 2001 senatorial elections a few months after her husband was toppled on corruption charges and was replaced by his vice president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Three years later, Ejercito was joined in the Senate by her son, Jinggoy Estrada, who will be on his second three-year term when the 14th Congress convenes in July.

The former President is facing a conviction for plunder for allegedly amassing P4 billion in illegal gambling and tobacco tax kickbacks, but Ejercito has supported her husband all the way.

“The family, led by Loi, gives its all-out support for President Estrada. She was there for him during the summation hearing at the Sandiganbayan recently,” said Cagayan de Oro Representative- elect Rufus Rodriguez.

Pimentel says no one is happier than the former President at Ejercito’s decision to retire from politics. “Loi is now my fulltime doctor and caregiver,” Pimentel quoted Estrada as saying.

RECTO now finds pleasure in taking care of his wife, actress and Batangas Gov. Vilma Santos, and Ryan Christian, his 11-year-old son.

“I love the simple pleasures of being a parent and a husband,” Recto said. He says his family could be the reason why he had not been depressed despite his unexpected defeat in the senatorial race, where he landed 14th despite having consistently placed at the top in the election surveys.

He now plans to invest in high-risk but potentially lucrative ventures to “create wealth,” which, he says, he never had the chance to do when he was in public service.

“I might as well cash in on the economic growth which, I believe, I had a direct hand in shaping through legislation,” said Recto, the principal author of the Expanded Value Added Tax Law, the highly unpopular but necessary legislation that financed critical government projects.

LIKE Recto, Osmeña plans to go back to the business sector after June 30, when his term ends.

He chose not to run for reelection like Ejercito—choosing instead to campaign hard for his colleagues in the opposition—but now he’s ready to leave public service and to go back to private life. Standard Today found him packing his things

“I am packing up tons of files. I am also busy preparing a couple of economic bills that my colleagues can file. After June 30, I can relax a bit,” he said.

He says he wants to see his children grow up, catch up on his reading, and review finance and management so he can update himself before rejoining the business world.

“I will do some fishing and once in a while stop and smell the flowers. I will devote my time to some [non-government organization] work such as livelihood and micro-finance,” he said.

Zubiri is anxious but optimistic he would overtake the young Pimentel once the Maguindanao votes are counted. He is in 13th place and being led by 111,000 votes by his fellow Mindanaoan Koko, who is clinging to the 12th slot.

“In Maguindanao I obtained 195,823 votes while Koko only got 67,067 votes. That gives me a lead of about 128,000 over him when his current lead over me is only about 111,000,” Zubiri said. “Obviously, if the Maguindanao votes are counted, I would displace Koko and grab the 12th slot.”

But Koko claims the certificates of canvass in Maguindanao are fake, and because they are fake he should be proclaimed the 12th elected senator.

He and his father describe as “statistically impossible” Zubiri’s having got the second highest vote in Maguindanao after Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis Singson.

“We dispute that Zubiri got 195,000 votes out of the 212,000 registered voters when Maguindanao Rep. Simeon Datumanong, a Muslim and who ran unopposed, obtained only 70 percent of the votes cast,” the older Pimentel said.

Zubiri is unconvinced. He says he finds it unfair that he would be stripped of his rightful seat, and only because the opposition is trying to be noisy about “something that can be dismissed simply as a non-issue.”

“It is only just that the seat is given to me,” he said. “I have won it. Why not give it to us [Team Unity]? We already got the beating and it is unfair if they would still deprive us of one more seat that is rightfully and duly won by myself.”