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Philippine VP de Castro Seen as Risky Replacement for Arroyo


A popular newscaster turned politician, Philippine Vice President Noli de Castro, would be in line to replace President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo if she is impeached or forced to resign over allegations of cheating in the 2004 elections. Mr. de Castro's political inexperience and ties to Mrs. Arroyo make him a target for the same groups that want the president to step down.

Noli de Castro, 56, has served in the largely ceremonially role of vice president since he won the position in the 2004 elections.

He is also the chairman of the urban and housing council and presidential advisor on overseas Filipino workers.

Although the vice president is next in line for the presidency, many of those who want Mrs. Arroyo out of office say Mr. de Castro does not have the competence or experience to lead the country.

Joel Rocamoro, director of the non-governmental Institute for Popular Democracy, says perceptions would make it hard for Mr. de Castro to garner support if he were to replace Mrs. Arroyo.

"The perception, especially in the middle class and the business community, that he's intellectually challenged, that's going to affect his presidency," said Mr. Rocamoro.

A political neophyte, Mr. de Castro only entered politics in 2001, when he won a Senate seat after running as an independent.

The unassuming Mr. de Castro portrays himself as one of the masses, a man who grew up without wealth or privilege, a rarity among Philippine politicians and a perception that has made him popular.

Mr. de Castro began his journalism career during Ferdinand Marcos' dictatorship in 1976. When Mr. Marcos was ousted in 1986, the future vice president joined ABS-CBN radio and television network.

He anchored two top-rated television programs, TV Patrol, and Magandang Gabi (Good Evening Nation), where he tackled social issues and earned a reputation as a crusader against corruption and abuse.

His broadcasts in native Tagalog earned him the nickname Kababayan, or countryman, and his following helped to launch his political career.

Still, he is seen as a political novice and analysts worry his inexperience may place him at risk for a military coup should he become president.

Allen Surla, political science professor at Manila's De La Salle University, says the military, which launched a series of coup attempts in the 1980s and a small-armed rebellion as recently as 2003, may jump at the chance for a power grab.

"Given the tendency of the military to handle things by themselves, well we could expect a series perhaps of coups or efforts to take over, if say, vice president Noli would become president," explained Mr. Surla. "Just like what happened in 1989, we had a series of coups because the military did not feel Cory Aquino at that time could be president."

Whatever the risks Mr. de Castro may face, it appears for now he will remain as vice president while Mrs. Arroyo fights to hold on to her presidency.

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