MANILA - The Senate on Friday became a debating arena between two presidential apirants and long-time political adversaries.
Vice-President Noli de Castro and Senator Loren Legarda, who contested the vice-presidential race in 2004, faced off at the Senate economic affiars committee hearing on premature campaigning.
The debate between the two started when de Castro read an old letter from Pag-IBIG employees and executives, asking him to appear in an infomercial for the agency's housing loan program.
"He is an ideal endorser being one of the most recognizable personalities in the Philippines, a respected broadcast journalist and a trusted public figure. As such, he lends his credibility to what is he endorsing, in this case, the Pag-IBIG housing loan program," de Castro said, quoting the letter.
"Being the chairman of Pag-IBIG, he is an in-house talent for our commercials, who did not receive a single centavo for his service," the letter read.
De Castro said the letter was in response to his question, "Why me?" when Pag-IBIG officials came up with an idea of coming up with an infomercial making him an endorser of the low-cost housing program.
The letter added that appearing in the infomercial was part of the vice-president's mandate, which is to "make the housing loan program more accessible and more affordable to its members."
The vice-president said his infomercials started airing in late 2007, and these ads have helped increase housing loans.
He said that in 2006, Pag-IBIG's low-cost housing loan reached only P16 billion out of the allocated P25 billion loan fund.
When his infomercial started airing over radio and television, the approved housing loans improved to P23 billion in 2007, P34 billion in 2008. He added Pag-IBIG is projecting P45 billion in approved housing loans by the end of the year.
Legarda, however, was not convinced. She said she is certain that the approved loans could still have been provided by Pag-IBIG to its members "with or without the face and voice of a Cabinet member."
As de Castro insisted that his presence in the infomercials led to the significant increase in approved loans, Legarda commented: "Regardless of those figures. What's important is that whatever we decide in this committee will be complied with by the Cabinet members."
Legarda had earlier said that she will propose in the next hearing on the 2010 national budget to turn down all suggested appropriations for media advertisements by government agencies. She said these funds should instead be directly allocated to the government's housing, education and health services.
She said she also agrees with Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago's proposal to prohibit government officials from appearing in infomercials, which, she said, may be used for the officials' politicking.
Earlier in the hearing, Legarda assured people present at the infomercial hearing that her comments or suggestions are not due to sourgraping.
Legarda lost to de Castro in a close vice-presidential race in 2004. She filed an election protest, but the Presidential Electoral Tribunal dismissed it in January 2008, saying she failed to prove fraud.
"I just want to make sure that every centavo goes to social services and not unnecessary media exposure, which could be used as a guise for politicking," she said.