First published in the Philippine Online Chronicles
He describes himself as the man who turned down the chance to be President of the Republic twice. True enough, former Vice President Noli de Castro successfully resisted pressures for him to take his one-shot journey in politics farther to the Palace. He did not budge at the height of the ouster movement that rocked soon to be Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. He also did not run for president last elections despite leading in surveys at the onset.
But more than the temptations that he avoided, the public asks the more crucial question: what then, has Noli de Castro done?
For the most part, de Castro was silent in his nine years in public service, save for his anti-poor remarks after gracing an event in Laguna. He was almost invisible under media’s radar, despite being a former hit in households as a broadcast journalist in Lopez-owned ABS-CBN Corp.
If his Facebook page would be used as measure of how he is liked by the online public, ex-VP de Castro’s score would be relatively close to none. (But he ranks morally higher than Arroyo for having no Facebook hate page). His Wikipedia page would not tell much about his political career either, except for a number of less-talked about government positions he occupied.
This is despite the fact that he topped the senatorial race in 2001 with 15 million votes as independent, a feat considered a first in Philippine politics.
Silent stint in Senate
As Senator, de Castro saw the ironic scene of his former colleagues in the media huddling around senators while he, once the highest paid Filipino broadcaster, sat quietly in a corner, according to a 2003Newsbreak report by Aries Rufo.
De Castro was the anchor of ABS-CBN’s primetime news program, TV Patrol, from 1987 to 2001. He was also host of the weekly “Magandang Gabi Bayan (Good night, Philippines)” until he ran for senator. It was in his popular shows where he gained the nickname “Kabayan.”
Journalist Rey Marfil commented that De Castro tended to be repetitive during his stint as senator to the point of being irritating. He added that the former senator’s attention span is short, posing questions already raised in the same hearing.
But perhaps unlike other non-performing legislator, the former news anchor can boast that he passed his first law after a year in the Senate. The Balikbayan Law, which was passed in 2002, grants additional USD2,000 tax-exempt shopping privilege on purchase of livelihood tools, among other benefits.
His usual safe stance on certain issues, however, could be partly blamed for the media’s low regard of him, Rufo said. In other circumstances, he said, de Castro would simply echo the position taken by his friends in the Wednesday group.
The Wednesday Group is de Castro’s “political gang” as described in a Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) report. It is made up of four other senators he struck a friendship with when he began his political career in 2001: Joker Arroyo, Manny Villar, Ralph Recto, and Francis ‘Kiko’ Pangilinan.
As a Manila Standard reporter recalls, de Castro “was neither here nor there” on issues such as Charter change, former President Estrada’s plunder trial, and former Chief Justice Hilario Davide’s impeachment.
But on issues where there is a clear public preference, De Castro takes a firm stand, Rufo continued in his Newsbreak article. In the Oakwood mutiny investigation, for instance, he condemned the means by which the rebellious soldiers resorted to in airing their grievances to the government.
Where is he during Hello Garci?
De Castro, however, was eerily silent during the Hello Garci poll fraud controversy against Arroyo in 2005. He was already Vice President during that time, almost a President-in-waiting amid the series of huge demonstrations calling for Arroyo’s resignation for allegedly cheating her way to the presidency.
In most cases, he dodged the controversy of his master safely by simply insisting on a stricter law on wiretapping. But on a few occasions, the outgoing Vice President expressed his opposition to the ouster calls during that time.
“Maghintay na lang tayo ng 2010 kung gusto nilang palitan siya (Let’s just wait for 2010 [when her term ends] if they want to replace her),” he said in an interview with Inquirer.net back in June 2005.
When ten members of Arroyo’s Cabinet, dubbed as Hyatt 10, bolted from the administration a month later, de Castro refused to join them in their crusade and instead stood by the President.
“Ayaw niya maging traydor. Ang sa kanya, ituloy ang proseso, ano man ang prosesong ‘yan, kungimpeachment man o ano (He doesn’t want to be a traitor. The way he sees it, we must let the process continue, whatever that process is, impeachment or something else),” his campaign manager said in aPCIJ report.
Not spared from controversies
He was not, after all, spared from controversies and intrigues in his term as Vice President. In September 2004, de Castro, then Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) chair, picked his friend Celso delos Angeles, Jr. to head theNational Home Mortgage Finance Corporation (NHMFC).
NGOs in the housing sector protested the “brazen corruption”at the NHMFC under delos Angeles’ watch. De Castro, meanwhile, kept safe distance from the issue, even denying his friendship with the NHMFC chair. De los Angeles resigned mid-July 2005.
Early in his stint as vice president, he was also accused of being accomplice to the P8-billion bailout of the Lopezes’ troubled Maynilad Water company. He was criticized for being a Lopez lackey, being one of the closest people to the media firm’s CEO back in his broadcasting days.
In September 2009, de Castro got enraged after urban poor group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) staged a rally while he giving a speech in a housing program event in Los Baños, Laguna. The militants were protesting the eviction of tens of thousands of families due to a railway project.
“Sana nilapitan na lang ako. Baka kulang lang … KSP… kulang sa pansin (They could have just approached me instead of launching a rally. Maybe they are just insecure people),” De Castro said, referring to protesters.
De Castro went on further to blame poor Filipinos for their sorry state. “Maybe they are lazy. Tell them they are lazy. They should pay their loans. I will demand their payment or else I will drive them away, no matter who they are,” he said when asked why beneficiaries fail to pay their loans,” GMANews.tv reported.)
Such remarks have placed de Castro under the militants’ crosshairs, earning criticisms usually dished out against outgoing President Arroyo.
“God save the Philippines from people like Noli de Castro. We vow to continue exposing his anti-poor record among our kababayans and to actively campaign against him this elections, whether he runs for president, vice-president or senator,” Kilusang Mayo Uno said in a statement.
Round trip to broadcasting
But he did not run. In an interview in ABS-CBN’s Saturday show “Failon Ngayon,” de Castro admitted one of the reasons why he did not run for President is his links with Arroyo. His decision not join the electoral race paved the way for the candidacy of Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro as Lakas-Kampi-CMD standard bearer.
Just as he announced he will retiring from public service, another controversy, perhaps bigger than the few ones he encountered, surfaced in his final two minutes.
De Castro, along with three other housing officials, are facing a graft complaint at the Office of the Ombudsman over the Smokey Mountain Development and Reclamation Project (SMDRP), an alleged midnight deal with businessman Reghis Romero, an Inquirer.net report said.
Under the alleged deal, Romero stands to receive a hefty P4.46 billion for costs his company incurred during the initial phase of the SMDRP, and several hectares of land, despite not being able to complete the project, according to an ABS-CBNNews.com report.
The ex-Vice President pleaded to spare him from the controversy. “Bakit kailangan ka pang siraan ay paalis ka na? Ano ang mapapala nila? (Why do they have to taint my name when I’m already leaving politics? What will they gain here in return?)” he said in a radio interview.
Today, June 30, de Castro will take his final bow from politics. He said he will return to his previous job as news anchor, but remains unsure whether he will return to his former company ABS-CBN or take the offer by Channel 5.