CORPUS APOLOGIZES TO LOREN BUT STICKS TO ACCUSATIONS

MANILA, February 7, 2004 (STAR) By Jess Diaz - Brig. Gen. Victor Corpus grudgingly apologized to Sen. Loren Legarda yesterday for calling her a "political prostitute," but not after repeating that the senator "is waltzing with the enemies of the state on the left and the right."

Corpus, head of the Armed Forces civil relations service but attached to the Malacañang "war room," admitted before the Senate defense committee that he made the controversial remark in an interview with The STAR last Sunday.

At the Armed Forces of the Philippines, officials said the military will check the purported links between Legarda and the country’s political left.

But AFP vice chief of staff and spokesman, Lt. Gen. Rodolfo Garcia said in a radio interview that for the meantime, the military establishment considered as raw information any reports linking the senator to communists.

At Malacañang, President arroyos campaign spokesman Michael Defensor expressed dismay yesterday over public statements made by Corpus that treaded into politics.

"And I think it would also be unfair to identify some personalities in the AFP as people speaking for the President or Malacañang," Defensor said.

Speaking in mixed English and Filipino, Corpus said he was doing some shopping at Robinsons Galleria when STAR reporter Cristina Mendez called him on his mobile phone and asked him about Legarda.

"Nag-alab ang aking damdamin," he said, his voice choking with emotion.

He said two images of Legarda appeared in his mind: one is that of the senator shedding tears during ousted President Joseph Estrada’s aborted Senate impeachment trial when she became a "heroine" among many Filipinos, and another as a politician consorting with right-wing military elements and communist insurgents.

He said the vice presidential running mate of movie actor Fernando Poe Jr. "sponsored" the Jan. 9 meeting at the exclusive Manila Polo Club of five Army captains accused of destabilizing the government and Pastor "Boy" Saycon, secretary-general of the Council on Philippine Affairs.

Legarda asked for a "chief spokesman" apparently for her election campaign from Communist Party leader Jose Maria Sison, who endorsed her candidacy early last month, he said.

"Ako po ay isang sundalo. Araw-araw mayroong sundalo na namamatay, at ngayon, meron tayong national leader na nakikipagkutsabaan sa kalaban, ano po ang mararamdaman ninyo?" Corpus asked.

He said he did not call Legarda a political butterfly "because political butterflies, of which we have many, only change political parties."

In the case of the opposition vice presidential candidate, he said "she is waltzing with the enemies of the state, and shares her bed with them."

It was at this point that Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr. told Corpus that he unfairly described his Senate colleague as a political prostitute, for which the military officer should apologize.

"I find that language foul and strong, especially when directed against a woman," he said.

Magsaysay even tried to make it appear that the Palace war room functionary was quoted out of context but Corpus admitted making the statement.

"I apologize your honor, if that is foul language," the officer said wryly.

Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, defense committee chairman, repeatedly asked Corpus if he was accusing Legarda of having committed acts against national security for allegedly consorting with state enemies.

"You are implying that Senator Legarda is a threat to national security. Are you ready to prove that?" Biazon asked.

"Your honor, that is my impression, my opinion. I was interviewed on a Sunday, while off-duty. I have a right to free expression," Corpus responded.

Biazon, a former chief of staff of the Armed Forces, lectured the military’s civil relations chief on what should be the proper demeanor of a "military officer and a gentleman."

"You are not an ordinary soldier. You are a general. You were the intelligence chief of the Armed Forces. As such, if you think one has committed acts against national security, it is your duty to report that to your superior and substantiate it. Otherwise, your remarks are just meant for political purposes and you are not allowed to do that," he said.

He said the law prohibits members of the military from publicly expressing their views on politics.

"Your only political right is to cast your vote," he told Corpus.

One by one, Biazon asked several ranking Armed Forces officials who attended the hearing if they had received any report linking Legarda to any destabilization plot or any act against national security.

None of them had received any and none of them shared Corpus’ barrage of attacks against the opposition vice presidential bet and his unrestrained expression of political views.

Biazon told reporters later that the military hierarchy should impose sanctions on Corpus.

Also during the hearing, Armed Forces officials denied that there are thousands of "ghost" soldiers whose salaries are being pocketed by corrupt officers.

Rustico Jimenez, supervising auditor assigned at general headquarters, said it is possible that the names of some dead soldiers still appear in the military payroll.

"But it is not possible that there are ghosts in the thousands. There has to be a conspiracy from top to bottom, and that will somehow leak," he said.

Palace Dismay

Defensor strongly took exception to charges of the opposition that Corpus defiantly made these statements at the Senate public hearing to attack the opposition candidates in the coming national elections in May.

"Definitely, General Corpus is speaking for himself. But there are guidelines that govern each and every member of the bureaucracy, particularly the AFP and the PNP," he said.

However, Defensor said it was not for the Palace to initiate any actions on Corpus on the possible wiretapping violations of the latter.

"And if there have been violations, then they would have to look into that," he said, stressing this was a job for the AFP.

Meanwhile, military spokesman Garcia said, "It’s (Legarda links with the Left) still raw info. As far as General Corpus is concerned, we’ll have to prove that it goes beyond merely raw info. We’ll check on this."

Garcia also denied yesterday claims by Vice President Teofisto Guingona that the military was spying on him. He said the same applies to Saycon, who also cried harassment.

The Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) under which Legarda is running for vice president, lashed out at Corpus yesterday.

He (Corpus) is "brain-dead as shown in his total failure in intelligence gathering and by his tendency to make false accusations against innocent people," KNP spokesman and former congressman Mike Romero said in a statement.

Romero said that aside from calling Legarda names, Corpus had "unjustly" accused her of being a destabilizer simply because her candidacy was endorsed by Jose Maria Sison, exiled founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines, and a group of retired generals.

Romero also laughed aside the "documents" that Corpus reportedly turned over to his superiors to support his tall tales against Legarda.

"No intelligence officer worth his salt would pass off as supporting evidence the news reports on the endorsement given by... Sison to Loren, and the news items on the Jan. 8 meeting of FPJ and Loren supporters at the Manila Polo Club," he said.

"If anything, Sison’s statement, which was the subject of the well-publicized reports by wire agencies and local reporters, was most welcome since he was, in fact, telling us that through Loren, the peace talks could be resumed," Romero said.

The KNP spokesman also shot down Corpus’ linking of Legarda to supposed "coup plotters," saying the meeting at the polo club was actually a meeting with different organizations that pledged support for the party tandem in the May elections. — With Jaime Laude, Marichu Villanueva


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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