Ex-TV presenter poised for Philippine presidency

Philippine Vice-President Noli de Castro, a popular ex-TV presenter whose greeting “Good evening, nation” is known throughout the country, may see his ambitions for the top job realised sooner than he expected.

But he may find himself attacked by the same groups whose allegations of vote-fraud in the May, 2004 elections, are threatening to bring down President Gloria Arroyo.

Ten Cabinet members and senior officials resigned from Arroyo’s Cabinet on Friday and urged her to let de Castro take her place as “the least disruptive and painful option” to restore normality.

So far, the vice president has not given signs of offering himself as an alternative to Arroyo.

“As a God-fearing nation, let us give President Arroyo a chance to think and decide for the country,” he told the resigning Cabinet members.

De Castro (56) widely known as ‘Kabayan’ (Countryman), enjoys widespread popular support as one of the most visible broadcasters in the country, appearing in a variety of television and radio news and talk shows since 1976.

In his top-rated shows, the married father of three tackled topical issues and gained an image as a crusader for social issues and against corruption and abuse.

His fame as a broadcaster allowed him to consistently top popularity surveys of prospective candidates and won him a senatorial seat in 2001. Arroyo successfully wooed him to be her running mate in the 2004 elections.

In the Philippines, vice-presidents are elected separately from the president and de Castro can boast he won the May, 2004 elections by a margin larger than Arroyo’s.

But most of the broad opposition groups seeking Arroyo’s ouster are just as averse to de Castro whose electoral victory, they charge, is equally stained with fraud.

Businessmen are also worried that de Castro is merely a talking head and does not have the intellectual capacity to be president.

“Even if Noli de Castro succeeds Arroyo, his term will be worthless,” the leftist Bayan (New Nationalist Alliance) said in a statement.

The various opposition factions have different objectives.

Leftists are calling for a “transition council,” while a shadowy group of retired military officers want to establish a “revolutionary junta” to take over from Arroyo.

Some politicians want Arroyo replaced with the widow of Arroyo’s defeated presidential rival Fernando Poe, ex-matinee idol Susan Roces.

Congressman Luis Villafuerte, an Arroyo supporter, warned de Castro that even if he replaces Arroyo, the opposition will go after him next.

After undermining Arroyo, “in only several months ... they will undermine Noli de Castro themselves,” he warned.

“They will say he should also resign because his election was tainted [and that] he is incompetent.
They will gang up on Noli de Castro.”

Arroyo’s Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said that de Castro told him that some of the resigned Cabinet members had earlier approached him about taking over.

“His decision is that he sticks with the president, he sticks with the Constitution. There’s no reason why he should disturb such an arrangement,” Ermita recalled. - Sapa-AFP

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