Sunday, January 06, 2008

De Castro is best bet of administration

By Norman Bordadora - Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines--The opposition views Vice President Noli De Castro as the “most formidable” contender that the administration can field in the 2010 presidential election.

But even De Castro will be no match for anyone in the opposition’s crop of “presidentiables,” according to Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and lawyer Adel Tamano, both opposition stalwarts.

Rodriguez, former spokesperson of deposed President Joseph Estrada, the recognized leader of the opposition, made the fearless forecast at yesterday’s Kapihan sa Sulo news forum, saying: “We believe that our crop of ‘presidentiables’ can do better. As long as the opposition is not divided four or five ways, we will win.”

Tamano, the spokesperson of the United Opposition, agreed that De Castro was the strongest candidate that the administration could put up against the likes of Senate President Manuel Villar of the Nacionalista Party (NP), Sen. Manuel “Mar” Roxas II of the Liberal Party (LP), and Senators Loren Legarda and Panfilo Lacson.

“But he has the same built-in weakness in that he is with the administration,” Tamano pointed out.

Declared Rodriguez: “Vice President De Castro is the most formidable.

“But he is ‘beatable’ by a strong opposition. He is identified with the administration, and the administration trust rating is very low.”

The administration coalition, led by the Lakas-CMD, is reportedly looking to choose its standard-bearer in 2010 from among De Castro, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chair Bayani Fernando and Quezon City Mayor Feliciano Belmonte.

Administration Sen. Richard Gordon is said to be also considering a run for the presidency.

Lakas executive director Ray Roquero yesterday told the Inquirer by phone that the ruling party might “adopt” De Castro.

But Roquero added that De Castro had to surmount obstacles within Lakas in the persons of Fernando and Belmonte.

De Castro and Gordon, despite having proved an ability to win an elective post on the national level, are outside the fold of Lakas.

Fernando and Belmonte are Lakas members, but neither has mounted a nationwide electoral campaign.

Another administration stalwart reportedly being considered for a run for the presidency is Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, a member of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC).

Of the lot, only Fernando has categorically declared himself available for nomination as Lakas standard-bearer.

“Yes, I want to run,” he told the Inquirer on Friday. “You can’t be too coy about this. You have to let people know what you want.”


Tamano said that for many qualified senatorial candidates in the 2007 midterm elections, their affiliation with the administration coalition proved to be a liability.

“Team Unity had many good candidates who lost because of the badge that they are part of the administration ticket,” he said.

But despite the opposition’s declared winning stance, Tamano cautioned its stalwarts against dwelling too much on 2010.

“Let us not be too arrogant ... [If we don’t come to an understanding] we may very well lose,” he said.

Tamano also appealed to members of the opposition “to lower the political noise.”

“It’s too early [for it],” he said, adding:

“The people want the opposition to address the country’s problems ... Don’t forget why the people voted for the opposition in the first place.”

The opposition fielded 11 candidates and won seven of 12 seats in the 2007 elections.

The 12th opposition candidate would have been the LP’s Sen. Francis Pangilinan, but he chose to run an independent campaign.

Estrada had earlier said he wanted the opposition to field a common presidential candidate in order to avoid a repeat of the 2004 polls when the opposition’s votes were split between his best friend, the late actor Fernando Poe Jr., and Lacson.

He had said that he might run himself if the opposition forces failed to come together.


Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, Lakas secretary general, explained De Castro’s apparent edge over other presidential aspirants allied with Malacañang:

“One of the factors that seem to be on Noli’s side is his loyalty to the administration in the last five years. That [partly] explains why some members of the party are pushing for his endorsement.”

Zubiri said De Castro had proven his capacity to assist in the implementation of the administration’s programs, especially in the housing sector.

De Castro, an independent candidate, was President Macapagal-Arroyo’s running mate in the 2004 polls under the administration coalition, K-4.

On Friday, Presidential Management Staff chief Cerge Remonde said his personal opinion was that De Castro would be the administration’s best bet for 2010.


Also on Friday, Zubiri said Lakas would kick off the selection process for its standard-bearer for 2010 in a two-day national directorate meeting to be held in Manila in the third week of January.

He said Ms Arroyo herself had requested that Lakas “start the process.”

Yesterday, Zubiri told the Inquirer that both the NP and the NPC had actively been courting Lakas’ support.

He said the “possible” presidential contenders were Belmonte, Fernando and De Castro, but quickly added:

“Even Manny (Villar of the NP) and Loren (Legarda of the NPC) have spoken to me personally on a possible coalition”

But the Legarda camp was quick to deny this.

Said Zubiri: “As of now, there is a large field [of presidential aspirants] for Lakas to choose from.”

He said that “although not very high in the surveys,” Belmonte and Fernando were “respected in terms of performance.”

He also said he gave the NP and NPC “suggestions on how to proceed with a possible coalition partnership between our party and their party.”

According to Zubiri, what is important in coalition-building is “our ideologies as political parties are in sync with each other.”

“Among the political parties today in the Philippines, we are similar in ideology with the NP as well as the NPC. So that’s Loren and Manny,” he said.

He added that Lakas’ political ideology was centrist: “We are not Right or Left. We are similar in ideology to the political parties of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, and in Asia, the Golkar party of Indonesia.”

‘Defending champion’

Roquero pointed out that the forthcoming Lakas meeting was for “strategic planning,” and that there was no rush to name a standard-bearer.

As the party with the largest machinery, “we should be the last one to declare our candidate,” he said.

Roquero said Lakas members and possible election coalition partners should proceed from this basic assumption.

“We are the defending, reigning champion. We won back-to-back [in the 2004 polls],” he said.

“As the dominant majority party, we will be the one to choose. They should go through a process. All others are miniscule parties. They simply want to attract new members, so they float names.”

But Davao Rep. Prospero Nograles, Lakas’ regional vice president for Mindanao, hinted that the party could merge with other parties with strong presidential contenders to survive 2010.

“I think Lakas right now is very fluid, and anything is possible at this point,” said Nograles.

He said Lakas and Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino, Ms Arroyo’s party, “must get its act together as soon as possible.”

“Too early to tell [if Lakas will remain intact]. We all must talk to our allies first, so that we can emerge strong,” he said.

With reports from Michael Lim Ubac and Dona Z. Pazzibugan

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