Attractive, eloquent and intelligent─these words are most often used to describe broadcast journalist and senatorial reelectionist Loren Legarda-Leviste. Looking at the list of her academic, media and political achievements, one can surmise that she is also ambitious and indomitable. But despite her previous success in the political arena, does she still have what it takes to secure a Senate seat the second time around?

Political Background

Loren Legarda-Leviste first ran for the Senate in 1998 under the Lakas-NUCD-UMDP Party. Becoming the youngest woman elected to the Senate, she topped the senatorial race with a remarkable result of more than 15 million votes. Even when she once again filed her candidacy for senator under the Genuine Opposition ticket on February 8, 2007, she continues to lead all contenders for the upcoming elections. According to Pulse Asia’s January 2006 nationwide survey on the Filipinos’ senatorial preferences, she gained 46.6% approval from the 1,200 survey respondents all over the country.

When the First Regular Session of the Twelfth Congress began on July 23, 2001, Legarda was elected as the Chair of the Committee on Rules and became the first woman Senate Majority Leader. After resigning from her post as Chair of the Rules Committee and deciding to become political independent, she was chosen to chair the Committee on Women, Youth and Family Relations.

Legarda authored several significant pieces of legislation throughout her six-year term in the Senate. According to the official website of the Philippine Senate, she had the most bills and resolutions filed (479 to be exact). Many of them are resolutions concerning human rights, environment, women and children’s rights and welfare, overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), and peace. Among these bills are: Anti-Domestic Violence Act, Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, Magna Carta for the Working Child, Public Employment Service Office Act (co-authored by the late Sen. Blas Ople), Barangay Business Enterprises Act, Tropical Fabric Law, Citizenship Retention Act, Overseas Absentee Voting Act, and declaring Eidul Fitr as a national holiday.

Having an advocacy for the environment, Legarda also prioritized measures such as the Integrated Solid Waste Management Act, Philippine Clean Air Act (co-authored by Sen. Gregorio Honasan), Batanes Protected Area Act and Mt. Kitanglad Protected Area Act.

Issues Against Legarda

Of course, a political figure as illustrious as Legarda is not without controversies. The biggest controversy that she ever faced was the 2004 election “fraud.” In 2003, she left the administration party Lakas to join the opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) as Fernando Poe, Jr.’s running mate. In the 2004 Philippine general elections, Legarda lost in the vice-presidential race to fellow ABS-CBN news anchor and Senator Noli De Castro by a very slim margin of 800,000 votes. This generated the allegations of massive cheating by De Castro and the administration. After her bid in the election, she filed an electoral protest before the Supreme Court sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal. She alleged that instead of changing the ballots at the precincts (which is difficult and time-consuming), the cheating was done on the election return, the summary of votes in the precincts.

Legarda (as well as other media–personalities-turned politicians) had also been questioned for “straddling between the Senate and the media”─ two institutions that should keep an eye on each other. In 2003, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) criticized her for crossing the line between media and politics. CMFR said that it is unethical for Legarda to continue being a broadcast journalist because of conflict of interest. Social Justice Society, a registered political party of lawyers and law professors, also raised the issue and even went to court to charge her of violating the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees. In this provision, politicians like herself are forbidden to “engage in [the] private practice of their professions unless authorized by the Constitution or law, provided that such practices will not conflict or tend to conflict with official functions.” Instead of defending herself, however, Legarda responded by invoking the principle of separation of powers.

Legarda’s political rift with De Castro actually started even before the 2004 elections. In 2002, De Castro (who was then a senator) accused Legarda of credit-grabbing in the release of fellow broadcast journalist Arlyn dela Cruz from her abductors in Jolo, Sulu. On April 8, 2002, De Castro gave reporters an update on the kidnapping and said that he had been trying to get dela Cruz released through the help of his intermediary, Prof. Mashur Bin Ghalib Jundam. When dela Cruz was released on April 27, however, it was Legarda who accompanied the kidnapped reporter. De Castro said that she did not inform him that she had managed to secure dela Cruz’s release. Legarda was also reported to have facilitated the payment of the P2 million ransom to dela Cruz’s kidnappers.

The most unusual issue about Legarda was when Ador Mawanay, a witness in the Senate hearing against Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s alleged involvement in narco-politics, claimed that Legarda bought P9.9 million worth of smuggled Nokia 3210 phones from him. However, not even Legarda’s critics could accept Mawanay’s story. The Senate Sergeant-at-Arms detained Mawanay to make sure that he can prove his allegations against Legarda.

Legarda was also noted for her excellent performance as a senator-judge during the impeachment trial of former President Joseph Estrada. Her intelligence allowed her to surpass the other senators, most of whom were lawyers and more experienced politicians. What made her truly memorable during that time, however, was the moment when she cried on Sen. Franklin Drilon’s shoulder after Estrada-allied senator-judges (such as Tessie Aquino-Oreta, who was shown dancing with joy) refused to open the so-called second envelope believed to contain incriminating huge bank accounts of Estrada. The senators’ refusal to open the envelope started the second EDSA revolution that ousted Estrada.

On March 15, 2007, however, Legarda admitted that she regretted her participation in ousting former President Estrada during the curtailed impeachment trial. She said that the EDSA 2 might not have happened if the second envelope were opened. Legarda also said that when the next Congress decided to open the said envelope, it was found that it contained not Estrada’s account but the bank account of Jaime de Chavez. She further stated that nothing has changed since EDSA 2 and that this is the main reason other EDSA 2 personalities regretted participating in that historical event.

Family Background

Born on January 28, 1960 in Metro Manila, Lorna “Loren” Regina Bautista Legarda is the only daughter of Antonio Cabrera Legarda of Manila and San Pablo City, Laguna and of Bessie Gella Bautista of Metro Manila and Antique. She is the granddaughter of the late Jose P. Bautista, the editor-in-chief of the pre-Martial Law Manila Times.

Legarda married businessman and former Batangas governor Jose Antonio Leviste, but they eventually separated before the 2004 election campaign. They have two sons, Lorenzo Antonio and Lance Antonio.

Few people are aware of the fact that Legarda was married before she met Leviste. Her official biodata does not mention this fact and it is not certain whether her first marriage was legally dissolved. Antonio Leviste himself was married to his first wife Celia when he met Legarda. He converted to Islam in 1986 and married Legarda in Las Vegas in 1987 even if he had never attempted to dissolve his previous marriage. His conversion to Islam might have allowed him to marry Legarda although he said that he converted for spiritual purposes.

One cannot help but wonder about the legality of Legarda’s marriage to Leviste. Although the marriage is valid under Islam law, the same cannot be said under Philippine civil law. According to Article 71 of the old Civil Code (which was the law applicable during the time of their marriage), all marriages performed outside the Philippines in accordance with the laws in force in the country where they were performed, and valid there as such, shall also be valid in this country, except bigamous, polygamous or incestuous marriages as determined by Philippine law. Of course, the main point is that a subsequent marriage is bigamous unless the first and subsisting marriage has been legally dissolved.


Even before her six-year tenure in the Senate, Legarda already had many accomplishments in the academe and in broadcast journalism. She was valedictorian from the Assumption Convent in grade school and a cum laude graduate of BA Broadcast Communications from the University of the Philippines in 1981. During her college days, she was well-known for telling her professors that she was running for honors. Years later, she would show off her UP honors and did not stop emcees from announcing during the 1998 campaign that she had topped her class and graduated summa cum laude. In reality, several other students had beaten her to the top.

While working as a broadcast journalist, Legarda obtained a master’s degree in national security administration at the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP). Some of her classmates there complained that NDCP was favoring Legarda because she was allowed to enroll at the college in 1992 even if she was only 32 years old at that time (the minimum age requirement of NDCP for graduate students was 35). According to Legarda, she was allowed to enroll because she “topped the entrance exam.” She often claimed that she graduated valedictorian from the NDCP even if the college does not give citations for valedictorian and salutatorian. She did, however, get a gold medal for academic excellence and she also received an award for best thesis.

In 1981, Legarda started her career in broadcast journalism as a news anchor for Newswatch in RPN 9. She hit the highest point of her television career while she was in ABS-CBN. At that network, she became the host and producer of the magazine program Pep Talk from 1986 to 1990. She also became a news anchor in The World Tonight (1986 to 1998) and the highly acclaimed current affairs program The Inside Story (1990 to 1998). While she was in the Senate, she hosted Tara Tena, a youth drama previously aired in ABS-CBN.

Legarda’s programs are highly respected and are used as reference materials by several academic institutions. She has received more than thirty major industry awards during her 20-year television career, including the Catholic Mass Media Hall of Fame for Pep Talk, Best Female Newscaster for The World Tonight and the KBP Golden Dove Broadcaster of the Year for 1996.

She is also highly regarded by the Muslim population in the country. For her impressive work with the Muslims, she had been given the title of Bai’ a Labi (Princess) by the Marawi Sultanate League.

Being an environmentalist, Legarda became a recipient of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) award in Italy in 2001 for her outstanding work through Luntiang Pilipinas. With this program, she planted over two million trees all over the Philippines. She was also a Likas Yaman Awardee of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for promoting crusades to save the environment.

Opinions on Various Political Issues

Legarda has many opinions regarding the Philippine economy. She believes that poverty alleviation must focus more on eliminating or reducing hunger. She supports the creation of more call centers because it provides more job opportunities in the country and she does not consider the Filipino diaspora a problem because the OFWs help keep the economy afloat. However, she does not approve of further increasing taxes to improve financial and economic stability of the Philippines because the Congress has done that already with the passing of the Expanded Value-Added Tax (EVAT). She added that the government should focus on the collection of the right taxes, such as income taxes and realty taxes.

Being a Roman Catholic and a supporter of women and children’s rights, Legarda is certainly against abortion. She believes, however, that reproductive health should be considered and that women should have the right to choose the contraceptives that suit their personal and religious beliefs.

It is interesting to note that she has not mentioned any stand regarding divorce. It may be safe to assume that she cannot comment about it simply because she herself has been separated from her husband for years.

Legarda may not have made any direct statement regarding the Garci tapes, but she is obviously against the alleged fraud committed by Noli De Castro and the rest of the Arroyo administration in the 2004 elections. Her pending vice presidential electoral protest and the costs that she incurred for investigating the case (P12 million in Lanao del Sur alone) are enough to prove her disapproval of cheating during elections.

As for the controversial issue of the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), one should not forget that Legarda was the only woman in the so-called “Magnificent Five” who voted against it despite extreme public pressure for its ratification. She still firmly believes that there should be a balance between national sovereignty and international commitment.

The mere fact that she has put to school several former child laborers through the Libro ni Loren Foundation is enough to show her stand on education. Legarda believes that there is a need to improve the quality of education sector. She also thinks that public school teachers should be trained properly in order to teach their students well and that their salaries should be increased so that the quality of education need not suffer.

Even if Legarda did not make any direct statement about extra-judicial killings, she definitely champions human rights. She played a crucial role in the release of five military and police officers and personnel held captive by the CCP-NPA-NDF in April 1999. In April 2001, she led the Humanitarian and Peace Mission for the safe return of Army Major Noel Buan to his family after almost two years of captivity by rebel groups.

Lastly, Legarda is not against a total ban on Charter Change. She believes that there is a need to revisit the Constitution because of changing times, yet the process should not be rushed in order to suit personal interests. She added that lawmakers should not make the people think that a changing the form of government would be the solution to all their problems because they would surely disappoint the entire Filipino population.—Froilan Naparan

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