MANILA, March 30, 2004
The shoe is now on the other foot.

Malacañang yesterday turned the tables on candidates of the opposition in the May 10 elections, particularly on Sen. Loren Legarda, who is running for vice president under the banner of the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP).

Legarda herself has been distributing Philippine Health Insurance Co. (PhilHealth) cards with her campaign photo on them, the President’s official campaign spokesman Michael Defensor told Palace reporters.

Defensor said that as many as 30,000 PhilHealth cards have been distributed in the Bicol Region by Legarda, running mate of KNP standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr.

Poe and Legarda have accused President Arroyo of electioneering for distributing PhilHealth cards bearing her likeness to indigent families and alleged that she used government funds to boost her bid for a full six-year term.

Over the past two weeks, Defensor said, disqualification cases and complaints have been filed against the President for her alleged violation of the country’s election rules.

"But, in fact, no less than Sen. Loren Legarda has issued 30,000 PhilHealth cards in Bicol, with the face and picture of President Arroyo and the picture of Sen. Loren Legarda," Defensor said.

If the opposition wants to "talk against PhilHealth cards, they should first look at their colleagues, who were also promoting the program and believe that this must be expanded and strengthened," he added.

Unlike the KNP, however, the Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan sa Kinabukasan (K-4) will not file any disqualification case or graft complaints over the issue, he added, saying "the opposition can file a case against (Legarda) if they want to prove their point. That’s my challenge to them."

Defensor also said there is nothing illegal in Legarda’s distribution of the health insurance cards.

"It is allowed by law because the counterpart fund given her came from the Senate pork barrel fund of Senator Legarda," he said.

"I think it is a vindication of the President, because (the opposition) were saying she was using government resources and yet Senator Legarda is one of those using (government funds)," he said.

Under the PhilHealth law, Legarda assumes half of the P1,200 annual premium for each PhilHealth cardholder, or P600, while the balance of the premium payment is shouldered by PhilHealth.

As far as the K-4 is concerned, Defensor said it has rejected the proposed signing by all political parties of a "covenant against the use of government resources" during the campaign period.

"Without a covenant, we’re legally constrained not to use government resources for the political campaign," he said. "So (there is) no need for a covenant."

He said candidates of the opposition are the one "who get angry and (are) accusing us of using government resources" for the K-4 campaign. "Why is it when one of them does it, they keep quiet about it?"

In an official statement issued by the Palace, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye similarly rejected the proposed "covenant-signing."

"As to the unlawful use of government resources, we don’t have to join a covenant of political parties on a matter we have not engaged in," Bunye said.

He said again that the complaints filed against the President were nothing but "nuisance" lawsuits, which have no legal basis. — Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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