MANILA, Philippines—All is fair in love and politics—or at least the lone woman candidate for vice president seems to think so.
The Nacionalista Party’s (NP) Loren Legarda, a self-proclaimed champion of women’s rights, is keeping her hands off the decision of NP presidential candidate Manuel Villar to seek the endorsement of three men known to have colorful histories with women.
At a forum Tuesday organized by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and featuring the vice presidential candidates, Legarda was asked what she had to say about Villar’s three popular endorsers—boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, comedian Dolphy and TV host Willie Revillame.
Pacquiao, a married man, was recently embroiled in a controversy over a rumored affair with a starlet. Dolphy has children with a number of women. Revillame, who’s been married several times, was accused by his ex-wife Floralice Almoro of being violent toward her and their son.
Replied Legarda: “Who am I to judge? I do not know their personal lives. They are the endorsers chosen by my presidential candidate. Who’s endorsing me is a smaller celebrity, Sarah Geronimo. She believes in my advocacy for women and the environment. Whoever the endorsers my presidential candidate got, I respect that.”
Building a country
Carefully choosing her words, Legarda added: “As for the alleged womanizing, I am not in a position to judge that unless I have private knowledge of the alleged womanizing.”
When it was pointed out to her that Dolphy had acknowledged fathering children with various women, she reiterated that she was leaving it to Villar to choose his endorsers: “If my presidential candidate is comfortable about that, I respect his decision.”
But Msgr. Pedro Quitorio, the CBCP media director, said the Church frowned on the practice of seeking endorsements from celebrities with questionable backgrounds.
“We are building a country, not a candidate. If we keep in mind that we’re building a country, we won’t do that,” he said.
According to Quitorio, endorsers are people whom others can emulate, and that logically, the candidate’s choice of endorsers reflects on his life.
“Civil society and the Church society say that people should choose candidates who have a well-rounded life. If they say that, then the same should apply to the endorsers as well. Why select a person who is immoral if our goal is to build a country?” he said.
The other vice presidential candidates weighed in on the issue.
Bagumbayan’s Bayani Fernando said it was not a good thing to get endorsers with questionable backgrounds.
“The morality of the person should be looked at, and we should not make an example out of a bad thing,” Fernando said.
Dominador Chipeco of Ang Kapatiran said a candidate would not need endorsers if he had a principled platform of governance.
“If [the platform] is desirable to the people, the voters will accept that even without the backing of endorsers. The other side of it is that those who use endorsers just prove that their platforms are unclear or their principles are lacking, which is why they have to use the popularity of endorsers,” he said.
Chipeco said his party had no money to pay for endorsements and was just relying on its own message, which, he added, had been welcomed by its audience.
Kilusang Bagong Lipunan’s Jay Sonza said the most effective endorsement was coming from the people that he had talked with.
Perfecto Yasay of Bangon Pilipinas said the practice of seeking big-name endorsers should be stopped because it made the elections only a matter of money and popularity.
He warned that with the endorsements, voters were no longer compelled to scrutinize the candidates’ background.
At the same forum, Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez said the vice presidential candidates appeared not to be angry at those stealing from the public coffers.
Iñiguez, who chairs the CBCP public affairs office, told reporters that he was expecting stronger statements from the candidates regarding graft and corruption.
“[Their responses were] too general. I was expecting that they would say they are angry at the grafters and corrupters of our government in the past and in the present,” he said.
Iñiguez expressed hope that the candidates would at least be driven to implement measures to curb anomalous activities.
He said even grafters would give answers identical to those of the candidates. But he acknowledged that the time limit imposed on the latter might have prevented them from elaborating on their stand.
To Iñiguez’s question of what the candidates would do to those found involved in graft and corruption, Legarda said any kind of corruption should be stamped out through leadership by example and a cleanup of the bureaucracy.
She said the amount lost to corruption could fund many social services.
Legarda also said the judicial process should be speeded up, and that prisons should be enlarged to hold all those who would be convicted of graft and corruption.
Yasay said the quick pardon of deposed leader and convicted plunderer Joseph Estrada was the biggest setback in the fight against corruption.
He said the guilty should be brought to justice.
Chipeco said corruption had long been present in the government, and that this was why the Office of the Ombudsman was put up.
He said the problem was that it was the Senate investigating questionable practices, and that those found liable were not being sent to jail.
Fernando said the justice system should be made to work, and that inquiries should be left to the police, and not to Congress.
Sonza said those who involved in wrongdoing should be brought to justice, and that even those sorry for their sins should be held accountable first.
Despite Iñiguez’s assessment, Quitorio said the vice presidential candidates acquitted themselves better than the senatorial candidates in a previous CBCP forum.
He said they appeared to be more connected to what’s happening on the ground.
Getting to know you
The CBCP is hosting the series of forums to allow the candidates to air their views on agrarian reform, mining, ancestral lands, the fisheries law, and other concerns of farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous people and women.
For the next forum, the CBCP has invited the presidential candidates. But so far, only three—Eddie Villanueva of Bangon Pilipinas, John Carlos de los Reyes of Ang Kapatiran and Richard Gordon of Bagumbayan—have confirmed attendance.
The front-runner, Benigno Aquino III of the Liberal Party, would only commit to attending the forum if Villar, his closest rival, would also be present, according to a source privy to the preparations for the event.