MANILA, April 22, 2004
By Niel Villegas Mugas, Reporter and Sammy Martin, Correspondent - AN exchange of diatribes, carried out through full-page newspaper advertisements, has heated up the fight for the vice-presidency between former broadcast colleagues Noli de Castro and Loren Legarda.

The tirades have escalated to a point that de Castro’s camp is considering suing Legarda.

The first of the disparaging ads, which appeared last week, lifted heavily from a five-part special report written by The Manila Times on a string of islets off Batangas whose ownership could be traced to Antonio Leviste, Loren’s husband and former governor of Batangas.

On Monday and Tuesday, advertisements headlined “An open letter to my kumpadre Noli de Castro, magpakalalaki ka!” listed the alleged anomalies committed by de Castro, including the so-called sweetheart deal between the Palace and the Lopezes on the bailout of Maynilad, his supposed abandonment of his daughter by his first wife and accusations he tried to milk money from personalities he wanted to feature on his popular TV news magazine, Magandang Gabi, Bayan.

The ad was signed by Leviste.

Interviewed in Calapan City, Oriental Mindoro, where she was campaigning, Legarda admitted that her husband took out the ads, but said he did so because the “ego of the Batangueño was slighted and being a private citizen, he has the option to react.”

She said her opponents were no longer targeting her, because they could find no fault with her. Now they have trained their guns at her husband and her son, Lance, she said.

Lance had reportedly boycotted the graduation ceremony in Ateneo, because he felt he deserves a higher award than an honorable mention.

Legarda said that issue is uncalled for, because Lance received an honor that every parent can be proud of.

“My son has been a consistent honor student since preschool. I have been given a chance to pin several medals in his elementary days,” she said.

She declined to react further to “issues which are recycled,” but was trying to find out who were behind the efforts to denigrate her.

Asked if she suspects de Castro was behind the advertisements, she replied: “All I can say to my good friend Noli is, I wish him the best of luck.”

Lakas-CMD Rep. Rodolfo Albano of Isabela believes that the ads hitting de Castro were meant to dent his popularity.

“It’s a pity that Tony Leviste has to come out with such black propaganda, instead of attacking the issues themselves,” Albano, former House majority leader, said.

The Senate majority leader, Francis Pangilinan, said the charges against de Castro were the work of “desperate political operators.”

He said de Castro had been a hard-hitting journalist for 15 years, and as a result, has stepped on many toes.

“His political opponents are using such individuals to get back at him this time. The timing obviously shows that these charges are politically motivated and are being done to promote the candidacy of Noli’s opponents,” Pangilinan said.

De Castro has been leading Legarda in all surveys since the campaign started. The latest poll by Pulse Asia showed him leading by 14 percent, equivalent to about 5.9 million votes on a base of 42 million voters.

-- With Maricel V. Cruz

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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