Cracks have appeared on the facade of solidarity of the administration’s Team PNoy senatorial lineup at a critical juncture in the May 13 elections, as tensions between leading candidates of the Liberal Party (LP)-led coalition erupted into mudslinging within its ranks, threatening to break up the alliance.
The tensions flared on Thursday after a self-styled whistle-blower with a dubious reputation, Louis Biraogo, who was identified with reelectionist Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano in the PNoy ticket, launched a vicious smear attack on reelectionist Sen. Loren Legarda of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), a partner of the LP-led Team PNoy, together with the Nacionalista Party (NP). Biraogo denounced the alleged inaccuracy of the financial disclosures in Legarda’s Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).
Responding immediately to the attack, Legarda told a press conference that she had declared all her properties, including an apartment in New York City, in her SALN since 2007.
In an interview on Sunday, Legarda showed this columnist a certificate from the accounting firm Sycip Gorres Velayo (SGV) stating that her SALN prepared by SGV had included the New York property since June 30, 2007. The certificate also stated that beginning Dec. 31, 2007, up to Dec. 31, 2010, the same property was included in her SALN. As of Dec. 31, 2011, and Dec. 31, 2012, the New York property was also included in Legarda’s SALN.
The certificate was signed by Joel P. Wanagen, an accountant, and noted and reviewed by Cirilo P. Noel of SGV and Avelino Cruz of the law firm ACCRA. With that, Legarda told me she had decided to refuse to dignify wild and “malicious” accusations with the presentation of facts. She said she would submit the case to the electorate, as a test of her credibility—of her word against that of her detractor. Let the facts speak for themselves, she said.
According to Legarda, the person who vilified her titled himself as an “attorney,” but records show that he was a second year law dropout at the University of the Philippines, and his name does not appear on the Philippine bar roll. He allegedly faces several estafa cases. She has told reporters that the attacks were “all part of black propaganda” to dislodge her from her front-running position in the opinion polls since the campaign.
The editors of the Inquirer have adopted the policy that the paper has to be wary about publishing derogatory accusations as hard news without verification, such as those from whistle-blowers being used as hired guns for political assassination, lest the media might be used as a weapon for further defamation. Toxic information, consisting of derogatory political material flooding the digital media from bloggers, has found its way into mainstream media. Mainstream newspapers should be warned against being used as vehicle for dissemination of libelous material from polluted sources taking a free ride on the news media.
Legarda said a fellow reelectionist (whom she did not name) on the Team PNoy ticket was behind the latest attack against her. She said this reelectionist senator was also allegedly behind the wild rumors about President Aquino’s mental health in the 2010 elections.
Impact on ranking
The attacks came on the heels of the publication of the latest poll survey of Pulse Asia conducted April 20-22. The survey showed that leading the senatorial race were Legarda, first with 51.5 percent; Francis Escudero, second with 48.3 percent; followed by Grace Poe, third to fourth places; Cayetano, third to seventh places; and former Las Piñas Rep. Cynthia Villar, fourth to ninth places.
Cayetano lost ground in the April survey, where he stood at third to seventh place, compared to second and third places in the survey of March—a loss of minus 8.7 percentage points.
There is a question on whether the recent attack on Legarda had affected her ranking as front runner and whether it had pulled her down to the lower ranks in the first to fourth places where there is intense rivalry among Legarda, Escudero and Cayetano. They are the tall poppies in the field, the most imminent targets of demolition jobs and foul tricks.
According to the Pulse Asia survey, if the elections were conducted during the survey period, 11 candidates from Team PNoy and five from the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) would be among the probable winners.
The survey found that with less than a month to go before the May 13 elections, voters are naming a mean of seven and a median of six preferred senatorial candidates (out of a maximum of 12) they will vote; only about one in four Filipinos (27 percent) has a complete senatorial slate as of April. This means there is a large room for volatility that could upset the 11-5 result predicted by Pulse Asia. Surprises should be expected in the next survey.
The intense rivalry among the front-running candidates in the LP-led coalition could undermine the administration’s chances of winning even eight seats. A 12-0 sweep is not only unrealistic, it is a wild dream, and a sheer impossibility.
With the administration’s front-running candidates at each other’s throat, LP strategists are worried over the backlash of the attacks on Legarda on the government’s lineup. Supporters have aired threats of Legarda breaking away from the administration’s ticket. According to some of her supporters, Legarda was concerned that the administration was fomenting cutthroat competition among its own candidates.
Malacañang was not taking this threat lightly. President Aquino has asked Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas III to look into Legarda’s complaint that a fellow candidate was behind the attacks on her. Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Legarda would not bolt the coalition ticket. “We believe Senator Legarda is a team player,” he said.
Lacierda cannot be too complacent. The worst nemesis of the Team PNoy is not the opposition UNA but the breakdown of party discipline stemming from backstabbing among its leading candidates, as well as its complacency.
They appear overconfident that the coalition’s party machine enjoys enormous campaign resources, not to mention the President’s high public opinion ratings, making their party machine invincible.
The attack on Legarda is a symptom of a possible breakdown of the party machine. It’s risky to rule out an upset that can shave off two to three seats from the administration’s team. Apart from the Legarda intra-party squabbles, there are a number of issues being swept under the carpet that are fueling a backlash of disenchantment from the electorate with the administration. These issues will be discussed in the next article.