If the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) had plotted it, it couldn’t have done a better job. By the time Team PNoy held its last rally in Amoranto Stadium last Friday, it was showing the cracks. Two of the senatorial candidates were frosty to each other. Or at least one was to the other, who was Loren Legarda toward Alan Peter Cayetano. Noticeably—all the reports noticed it—she refused to buss him in the cheek.
If UNA had plotted it, it couldn’t have done a better job—except that UNA did not plot it. Cayetano did—or so Legarda believes.
“It” is of course the accusation that she acquired a posh $700,000-condo unit in Park Avenue, New York, in 2006, but never declared it or paid taxes for it. She did so only in 2011 after Renato Corona was impeached and the issue of public officials hiding their properties arose. Additionally, “it” is the accusation she owns as well a multimillion-peso house in No. 40 Cambridge Circle in Forbes Park, Makati City, which she hasn’t declared either. Officially, it’s owned by her PR company, but she owns 99 percent of the company.
The accusation was made by one Louis Biraogo who describes himself as a businessman with a public interest advocacy. He has already brought it to the attention of the Ombudsman. Legarda scoffs at the idea, and depicts him instead as a straw man with vested-interest backing. Specifically, that backing comes from Cayetano whose vested interest lies in dislodging her from the number one spot in the surveys. She hasn’t expressly said so, but has hinted broadly at it, naming “Willie F” as the PR man spreading the apparent canard.
I don’t know how much harm it did to Legarda’s standing in the polls, which is something we’ll know soon enough. I suspect not all that much for a couple of reasons. One is that it came out fairly late in the day and if it wasn’t buried by other news, it was at least reduced to just being one of them.
Two is that charges of someone owning properties abroad, notably in the United States, do not seem to capture the public imagination enough to spark an outcry. That was so with the charges against the former First Couple owning properties in San Francisco, that was so with the Senate hearing over Ping Lacson’s apparent properties in the United States, and that was, or is, so with the Marcoses’ properties in the United States and elsewhere. The public imagination can’t seem to go beyond the country. Anything beyond our borders lapses into abstraction.
Contrast that with the furor that erupted over Corona’s unit in The Bellagio. While part of it was arguably roistered by those prosecuting him, a great deal of it was spontaneous. Who knows? Legarda’s property in Forbes might do the same. The elections by no means close the issue. However Legarda fares, she hasn’t heard the end of it.
That puts the P-Noy administration in a bind. During the Team PNoy’s miting de avance last Friday, Legarda repeated her line of defense that the accusation was malicious and politically motivated, specifically timed to dislodge her from top spot. “We should set this all aside,” she said, “because this can’t be eaten by the poor.”
True enough the accusation was probably malicious and politically motivated, true enough its intent might have been to nudge her off the pedestal, but none of that voids the validity of it. What accusation of corruption, or tax evasion, in this country isn’t malicious or politically motivated? But many of them also happen to be true.
Easy enough to prove whether Legarda did declare those properties or not, did pay taxes—the right amount and at the right time—or not. There should be documents aplenty to prove it one way or the other. A victory at the polls, however resounding, won’t dispel it.
Unfortunately for Legarda, if the accusation prospers, she’ll face a Supreme Court that isn’t likely to take kindly to her. At the very least, that’s so because she was one of those who voted to convict Corona despite being seen as a supporter of his, a fact that could be seen as betrayal by his friends in the Court. And, sublimely ironically, she now stands accused of pretty much the same thing she convicted Corona of. At the very most, that is so because Antonio Carpio is firmly ensconced in the Court and seems determined to take out his not being the chief justice on P-Noy’s allies.
Even more unfortunately for Legarda, she has got it wrong. You can’t set it aside. Fighting corruption can be eaten. In fact, if there’s anything P-Noy has proven since he took power, it is that. Good government can be eaten. Just government can be eaten. An order fairly free of perfidy can be eaten.
The opposite was what the government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo tried to sell: Morality can’t be eaten, integrity can’t be eaten, honesty can’t be eaten, harping on them can only be divisive, dwelling on them can only make the poor poorer. Yet it is precisely the anticorruption campaign that Legarda has vowed to uphold by being a candidate of Team PNoy that has produced government’s impressive economic accomplishments. It is precisely the daang matuwid that Legarda has sworn to uphold by being a member of Team PNoy that has produced at least the possibility, if not as yet the reality, that the poor can be less poor. It is precisely Corona’s ousting that has given the country law, justice—and food.
That is the heart of the P-Noy administration, that is the thrust of the P-Noy administration. Legarda has to settle her problem at once, and once and for all. The P-Noy administration has to exert itself to resolve her problem at once, and once and for all. However it goes, wherever it goes. Especially if she wins, especially if she wins big. The Liberal Party wanted winnable candidates whatever the cost. This is one of them.
Some endgames are really just openings.
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