MANILA, OCTOBER 3, 2003  (STAR) By Mayen Jaymalin  - Malacañang said yesterday it was not at all surprised by Sen. Loren Legarda’s resignation from the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrat (Lakas-CMD) party.

"I’m not surprised," Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said when asked to comment on the move by Legarda, who is reportedly eyeing the post of vice president.

The resignation of Legarda, who held the post of Senate majority leader, is expected to trigger reorganization in the Senate leadership.

Bunye said Legarda’s resignation will be one of the issues to be tackled by Lakas-CMD officials in a directorate meeting on Oct. 7 to determine its impact on the party.

He added that President Arroyo has yet to indicate her plans for next year’s presidential elections. To prevent the party from breaking up, Lakas leaders plan to force the President next week to declare whether or not she will enter the presidential race in May 2004.

Vice President Teofisto Guingona, Lakas president, said he is "saddened but fully respects" Legarda’s decision to bolt the administration party.

"The party’s loss is our people’s gain," he said in a statement. "I am saddened but I fully respect and accept Loren’s declaration of independence."

Guingona added that in the years he and Legarda were together in the Senate, "she proved her strength of character." He described her as strong-willed, independent, firm, objective, and "possessing genuine nationalism."

"I assured Loren of my support wherever she goes. I know she will stand true to her commitment to serve our country and the public in the best way she knows how," he said.

Speaker Jose de Venecia expressed regret over Legarda’s decision to leave Lakas "because we were instrumental in recruiting her to run for the Senate under the party’s banner in the 1998 elections."

He added that they respect her decision and hope "it is not final," since Lakas will want her to stay and continue serving in the Senate "under the banner of the country’s biggest party."

Lakas national spokesman Heherson Alvarez said Legarda’s resignation is "very liberating for the party."

"It releases us from the burden of having to decide on the question of whether the party should field a woman and woman ticket for the presidency and vice presidency in the May 2004 elections," said Alvarez, who is also presidential adviser for overseas Filipino communities.

He added that Legarda is a leading political figure and "if she did not resign, the party would have been hard put not to consider her as a vice presidential candidate. Her resignation offers us more flexibility in our decision-making process."

Alvarez also said Legarda’s resignation is not a loss to the party because "even if she runs under another party, she will not be taking away votes from President Arroyo."

Presidential legislative adviser Gabriel Claudio, Lakas senior deputy secretary general, said Legarda’s decision "may have spared the party from some difficulty and complications" since, "given the options she is considering for 2004, her continued stay in Lakas may have been difficult, if not untenable."

"Her departure may even allow the party to better spread its wings and consolidate its strength," he said.

Legarda announced yesterday she was resigning from Lakas and will remain an independent until she finishes "soul searching" about her political plans for next year’s elections.

She said she has yet to decide if she will join the opposition.

Legarda, whose first term in the Senate will end in 2004, earlier said she was considering seeking the vice presidency though no formal announcement was made about it in yesterday’s press conference.

"With Lakas, I cannot take a divergent view without breaching party rules. I cannot speak out my mind without inviting intrigue," she said.

Legarda added that "being independent endows me with the freedom to take an objective and firm stand on the raging issues of the day without inviting criticism that I am disloyal to Lakas."

Her resignation drew varied reactions from administration congressmen.

Deputy Speaker and Iloilo Rep. Raul Gonzalez said Legarda’s decision to bolt the party "is the most decent thing to do … if she’s no longer happy with the party."

Davao City Rep. Prospero Nograles, Lakas party whip for Mindanao, said the party should respect Legarda’s decision.

"She has a mind of her own and she can take care of herself politically," he said. "If she can’t agree with party stands, better to leave the party than have a free ride."

Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano said the senator’s resignation will have no bearing on the Lakas party’s "overwhelming political might" and dismissed speculations that others may follow suit.

"She’s free to leave. Lakas practices democracy and her resignation does not affect the party’s strength," he said, adding that the party is, in fact, "overcrowded" with national candidates. — With reports from Sammy Santos, Paolo Romero

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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