Was it a case of delicadeza making an all-too-rare appearance in Philippine politics, and therefore deserving of hallelujahs? Or was it a face-saving gesture by someone who, faced with fresh revelations of perfidy that appeared to undermine the legitimacy of his public position, decided he couldn’t defend it anymore, despite his own loud protestations that he was “duly elected” to it?
When news first emerged that Miguel Zubiri was about to announce his resignation from the Senate, in the wake of resurrected allegations of cheating in the 2007 polls that gave him the 12th slot in the chamber over his nearest rival, Aquilino Pimentel III, many people found themselves taking a second, more admiring look, at the young politician from Bukidnon. Could it be that a statesman was about to reveal himself, ready to renounce his bitterly-won position of power and privilege for the larger principle that elections should never be stolen, that the true will of the people is so sacred a bedrock of democracy that its perversion can only be cleansed by self-sacrifice?
In the history of this nation, no one has ever resigned from his or her jealously guarded sinecure over still-unproven charges of wrongdoing. And, to be fair, that’s what the 2007 poll irregularities remain at this point: accusations awaiting the validating stamp of certainty by the Comelec and the courts. Of course, that those charges have come from unusual quarters this time around—not from the losing candidates, but from people reportedly neck-deep in the fraud, chiefly former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan and former Maguindanao election supervisor Lintang Bedol—lends them more than a whiff of truth. If Zubiri was, in fact, resigning because he was convinced there was fraud, even if it benefited him, why, three cheers indeed for the return of delicadeza.
What a letdown, then, to finally listen to Zubiri’s resignation speech in the Senate. He was quitting, he declared, not because he believed and was appalled that deceit occurred during the elections, but only because the “trial by publicity” directed at him had become a hurtful burden to his family. “Without admitting any fault and with my vehement denial of the alleged electoral fraud hurled against me,” he said, he was giving up his electoral mandate of 11 million votes because “these unfounded accusations against me and these issues has [sic] systematically divided our nation and has casted [sic] doubts in our electoral system which has affected not only myself, this institution but the public as well.”
In other words, he wasn’t resigning because he believed his Senate seat was acquired by foul means, whether intentionally or not. He was throwing in the towel because he couldn’t take the heat anymore.
This is not to disparage or trivialize the anguish that Zubiri’s family must have gone through as he battled this thicket of allegations. But it bears remembering that the firepower recently directed at Zubiri still pales in comparison to the verbal slugfest that erupted between him and Pimentel during the protracted count for the last Senate seat in 2007. Then, Zubiri fought with all the arsenal he had, from high-priced lawyers to the skillful deployment of his media-savvy persona, to make the case that he had nothing to do with the electoral fraud that appeared to favor him. In the immediate aftermath of those polls, he was called far worse names, and he didn’t blanch. Why now?
Despite calling his resignation an act of “honor and integrity,” Zubiri must have realized how puerile and sentimental his justifications for it were. Because in subsequent interviews, he admitted the real cause of his sudden capitulation. Ampatuan’s disclosures and the re-emergence of Bedol, he said, provided strong “testimonial evidence” that cheating indeed happened in Maguindanao and he was its beneficiary, even if he was not a party to it. Vacating his seat was the honorable thing to do, he added.
It took Zubiri only a few hours to redeem himself from the whiny, self-pitying politico he had projected on the Senate floor to a sober, grown-up individual capable of taking some responsibility and seeing right from wrong, and choosing principle over selfish interest. He missed his rendezvous with greatness in his resignation speech, but his belated honesty is still most welcome. May he not stop there.
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