With Villar-Loren tandem, is Noli quitting politics?

by Aries Rufo and Lilita Balane, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak

Posted at Nov 18 2009 01:39 AM | Updated as of Nov 18 2009 10:39 PM

MANILA - With the May 2010 partnership between Senators Manuel Villar and Loren Legarda now formalized, what future awaits Villar's good friend, Vice-President Noli de Castro?

De Castro’s political future is slowly slipping away after Villar, the presidential candidate of the Nacionalista Party (NP), and Legarda, the vice-presidential bet of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), formally announced their alliance at the Laurel House on Tuesday.

Villar’s choice of Legarda as his running mate further highlighted the question, amid de Castro’s continued ambiguity of his political plan. In the administration party, he has been edged out by actor Edu Manzano as the running mate of Lakas-Kampi-CMD bet, Gilbert Teodoro.

Asked whether de Castro is moving away from the political limelight, lawyer Ronadale Zapata, de Castro’s spokesperson, said: “He is not disclosing yet his plans for next year. We will see by December 1 if he will or will not file his certificate of candidacy.”

She said de Castro still refuses to be interviewed on “anything related to politics.”

A source in de Castro's camp, who declined to be named, said that unlike in 2001, when the ABS-CBN broadcaster first ran for the Senate, and in 2004, when he ran for vice president, there are still "no marching orders" this time.

The deadline for the filing of certificate of candidacy is midnight of December 1.

In an ambush interview by abs-cbnnews.com/Newsbreak at the NPC headquarters in Mandaluyong City where the Villar-Legarda tandem was announced, Villar refused to answer questions why he did not choose de Castro.

“It is not an appropriate issue today because we’re celebrating. I don’t want to pull my friend down,” Villar said.

'No permanent friends...

During the press conference, Villar and Legarda parried questions on their partnership, one that seemingly proves again that in politics, there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests.

The two ran together under the Genuine Opposition (GO) ticket in the 2007 senatorial race, but this did not prevent them from fighting for the top senatorial spot.

At one point in the campaign, they accused each other of “dumping,” where supporters of each other’s camp are told not to carry a party mate.

Legarda topped the 2007 senatorial race with Villar placing fourth.

Legarda was also among those who ousted Villar from the Senate presidency, which happened a year ago.

At that time, both were figuring well in the surveys for preferred presidential bets.

Legarda joined Senators Mar Roxas and Panfilo Lacson, who both were also eyeing the presidency then.

She also criticized Villar for saying at one point that “he who has the gold, rules,” referring to the race to Malacañang.

She said then that Villar’s statements smacked of gangsterism. “If this would be the system (money politics), then we are no different from a gang. Whoever has the money, dictates. No one can question his leadership...,” Legarda had said in a statement.

...only permanent interests'

Yet a year later, Legarda and Villar are on the same fence.

Acknowledging that they have political differences, Legarda said these are normal in the Senate.

However, she said she felt humbled by Villar’s lack of hatred toward his enemies.

On Monday, Legarda was among the 12 senators who sought to dismiss the ethics complaint against Villar for the alleged double funding and diversion of the C-5 Road extension project that supposedly benefited his real estate properties.

Villar said his and Legarda’s vision and platform of government converged. Thus, she was the “logical” choice.

The two would not say how long the courtship began. Asked who initiated the talks, Villar said the talks started from his camp.

Abs-cbnnews.com/Newsbreak sources, however, said that it was Legarda who actively pursued the political partnership.

This will be Legarda’s second attempt at the vice presidency. She was the running mate of show business icon Fernando Poe Jr. in the 2004 national race. Both lost, but Legarda pursued her case before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.

She effectively abandoned her case when she ran in the 2007 mid-term elections.

Legarda, a former ABS-CBN broadcaster, said the team-up would not resort to negative campaigning. “We will wage a positive campaign,” she said.

Where’s Noli?

With Villar finding his leading woman, no room is now left for de Castro, whose friendship with Villar started in 2001 when they both won as senators. They both belonged to the Wednesday club of senators, which included Joker Arroyo, Francis Pangilinan and former Senator Ralph Recto.

In previous interviews with NP stalwarts, Villar was supposed to be talking with several prospective vice-presidential wannabes. De Castro was among those who Villar talked to.

Gilbert Remulla, political spokesman of the NP, admitted that initial talks between Villar and de Castro were held, but these never took off after De Castro showed no particular interest in seeking another term.

“He did not signify his intention to seek for a public post,” Remulla said.

But then again, de Castro’s decision-making process has been marked by last-minute decisions. When he ran for senator and vice-president, he filed his certificate a few minutes before the deadline lapsed.

He may still make a surprise decision, but then, it could be too late.

In the last Pulse Asia survey conducted October 22 to 30, de Castro's political stock had dropped to 4% from his 16% in August 2009, then good for third place in voters' first choice for president.

"I don't know what happened. It [ratings] has collapsed," the source in de Castro's camp said. "But anything can still happen."