Reelectionist Sen. Loren Legarda on Monday received bipartisan support amid what she called efforts to malign her and dislodge her from the No. 1 spot in the surveys.
The statements of support came from friends and foes alike, led by President Aquino and Vice President Jejomar “Jojo” Binay, leader of the United Nationalist Alliance.
Earlier in the day, Legarda was charged in the Office of the Ombudsman with five counts each of graft and nondeclaration of a piece of property in the United States in her statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) from 2007 to 2012 as required by law.
Also on Monday, Legarda’s party, the Nationalist People’s Coalition, hinted at withdrawing from the administration Team PNoy because of what it called “character assassination” by an unnamed coalition teammate.
In a complaint-affidavit, businessman Louis “Barok” C. Biraogo, 52, of Biñan, Laguna, accused Legarda of violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (Republic Act No. 3019) and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials (RA 6713) for allegedly concealing her purchase of a condominium on 77 Park Avenue in New York City for $700,000 (about P36 million) on May 9, 2006, from her SALN.
Legarda, however, dismissed Biraogo as “a paid political assassin with zero credibility,” adding that her lawyers would face the issues he raised in “the proper forum.”
Legarda, who is seeking reelection under the Team PNoy coalition, maintained that a fellow administration senatorial candidate was behind Biraogo’s efforts.
President Aquino said he was confident the voters could distinguish between rumor and fact.
“I am confident that she is not only prepared, but will do her utmost best to answer any and all allegations raised against her,” the President said in a statement.
Aquino said that throughout the campaign, Legarda had enjoyed the “overwhelming support of voters,” reflective of her status as a senator and public official.
Biraogo said it was Legarda’s obligation under Section 8 of RA 6713 to declare the New York property in her SALN when she became a senator in May 2007.
“There is nothing in her SALN for 2011 which indicates where the Park Avenue unit is located in the US, how respondent acquired the said residential condominium unit, its current fair market value, and whether or not there were any improvements on the property,” he said.
But Legarda said that all her properties—including an apartment in New York bought by her former husband—were declared in her SALN since 2007.
Each count of violation of RA 3019 carries a prison term of five years, while a single violation of RA 6173 carries the penalty of removal from office.
Insisting that her SALNs for 2007 to 2011 were accurate, Legarda described Biraogo as one “paid by an extortionist PR and a senatorial candidate who wants to dislodge me from number one.”
Members of the NPC hinted at a possible withdrawal of support for the political party and allies of the Team PNoy candidate harassing Legarda.
The NPC members were hurting over the “character assassination” of Legarda.
NPC member Sen. Tito Sotto did not bother to mask his indignation at the way Legarda was being treated within Team PNoy.
“They are just making us (NPC) all the more unsupportive of the coalition with the NP and LP,” he said.
NPC spokesman Valenzuela Rep. Rex Gatchalian said the “vicious attacks through text messages… and social media” against Legarda were “totally unfair” both to her and “the NPC as well.”
Gatchalian reminded Team PNoy that the NPC had given its “full support and commitment to all the senatorial candidates under the banner of Team PNoy,” including the candidate maligning Legarda.
Team PNoy includes the ruling Liberal Party (LP), the NPC to which Legarda belongs and the Nacionalista Party (NP).
Meanwhile, Binay issued a statement in support of Legarda who was one of his rivals in the 2010 vice presidential election.
“The allegations against her are obviously politically motivated and I’m confident she would get through this unscathed,” he said. “Senator Legarda, I can say, is a person with integrity.”
Members of Team PNoy also took turns defending Legarda.
Team PNoy campaign manager Sen. Franklin Drilon and senatorial candidate Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara urged voters to be more discerning of issues and to look beyond what Drilon described as a “venomous smear drive” against Legarda.
“I find the timing of questions raised against Senator Legarda on her SALN highly suspicious given the proximity of the May 13 elections. Why bring it up only now,” Drilon said.
Angara said the effort to sully Legarda “reveals the dark side of Philippine politics.”
“We should put a stop to all the mudslinging. Philippine politics should be a race to the top, built on a sober discussion of policies, platforms and issues. It should not be a question of pushing others to the bottom,” Angara said.
Reelectionist Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, also of Team PNoy, said he believed Legarda would preserve her hold on the No. 1 spot once the votes are tallied on May 13.
As this developed, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV has tagged a certain publicist as orchestrating the “black propaganda” to derail his own reelection.
Trillanes said this was the same publicist who was supposedly behind the smear campaign against Legarda.
“Please don’t believe the lies spread through text messages that Sen. Loren Legarda and I have filed a bill lowering the benefits for soldiers, policemen and teachers. That is not true.—With reports from Tarra Quismundo and Gil C. Cabacungan