SAN FERNANDO, PAMPANGA, January 14, 2005
(STAR) By Ding Cervantes  —  Vice President Noli de Castro declared here yesterday he will stick it out with the administration in the next five years as he downplayed reports of him leading destabilization attempts to unseat President Arroyo on his way to Malacañang.

De Castro said he does not believe in "destabilizers" who want Mrs. Arroyo ousted, dismissing such reports as mere products of rumor mills.

"I don’t believe there are really destabilizers. There are only those who spread rumors. I think the opposition will bide their time to return to power," declared De Castro as he led officials in the distribution of certificates of land titles to Mt. Pinatubo eruption victims at the Bulaon resettlement project here yesterday.

De Castro said that reports of destabilization moves against the Arroyo administration must have been perpetrated by the President’s critics taking advantage of the supposed "negative image" of the administration.

The Vice President however declined to name the sources of rumors which he claimed, are often passed on through cell phone text messages.

Some of the text messages circulated identified him as possible successor should Mrs. Arroyo be ousted.

De Castro said that the rumors have not affected his relationship with Mrs. Arroyo.

"When I agreed to be her running mate, we agreed to be open to each other. I asked her to tell me my faults and to allow me direct access to her without passing through people around her," De Castro said.

"I would not feel bad if she denies my requests, since she is the president. But so far, all my requests from her have yielded positive response," he said.

De Castro said such requests were "small ones conveyed to me by people needing her help."

Asked on the possibility of joining the opposition, De Castro replied, "even in the next five years, I don’t think I would have any political affiliation."

De Castro did not say, however, if he would consider any political party on the sixth and last year of Mrs. Arroyo’s term.

De Castro said the only way that rumor mongerers could be stopped is through "good governance, through performance as a good official."

He said rumor mongerers are only few but have been there all the time from the last days of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos before his ouster to the turbulent administration of former President Corazon Aquino.

"They are not likely to change their ways. Their only job seems to cause trouble," De Castro added.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the political tandem of Mrs. Arroyo and De Castro will stay until the end of their six-year term.

"The Gloria-Kabayan tandem is solid and strong in the service of the people," Bunye said.

"Both of them remain supportive of each other in every way, and we are banking on this strong partnership in achieving their shared vision of uplifting the poor in making this great nation move forward," he said.

‘A firm hold on the presidency’

For their part, administration lawmakers said Mrs. Arroyo has "successfully transcended" critical times after so many destabilization attempts by her political adversaries

following the ouster of her predecessor, former President Joseph Estrada.

Cebu City Rep. Antonio Cuenco and Isabela Rep. Rodito Albano said the President herself squelched destabilization talks by vowing to complete her term and fulfill her campaign promises.

"Those behind these black propaganda are desperately trying to project the Arroyo administration as weak when the reality is that it continues to be strong and competent in delivering public service," Cuenco said.

Cuenco stressed Mrs. Arroyo will finish her term through the support of her allies and the people who believe in her capability and sacrifice.

"She has a firm hold on the presidency and the people are solidly behind the duly elected leadership," he said.

Albano claimed "destabilization intriguers" are just working to get concessions from the government.

After succeeding Estrada in January 2001, Mrs. Arroyo took on the leadership of the country faced with multiple problems.

"Her administration was faced with political crisis, divisive animosities, a huge financial deficit inherited from the previous administration, criminality, and the global war on terrorism and corruption. But she faced these challenges boldly to put the country back to the road of recovery," Albano said.

Critics and opposition leaders like former Senate president Jovito Salonga said Mrs. Arroyo could be impeached if it is shown she influenced the Sandiganbayan’s decision allowing Estrada to undergo surgery in Hong Kong.

There were some talks that Mrs. Arroyo facilitated the medical furlough of Estrada to appease the opposition but this was denied by Malacañang which stressed the independence of the Sandiganbayan from the executive department.

Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis "Chavit" Singson, the principal witness against Estrada in the plunder case before the Sandiganbayan, earlier claimed Mrs. Arroyo is exerting her influence on the anti-graft court to allow Estrada to seek medical treatment abroad.

A senior administration lawmaker, Davao City Rep. Prospero Nograles, defended Mrs. Arroyo and said she was merely obeying the decision of the anti-graft court.

"She only followed the Sandiganbayan order. There’s no iota of evidence that GMA ever influenced the court to allow Erap’s (Estrada’s) medical treatment in Hong Kong. So where is the ground for impeachment?" Nograles asked.

He said Salonga’s claim is "bereft of any legal and constitutional ground" since the executive department headed by Mrs. Arroyo cannot do anything but yield to the Sandiganbayan’s order.

"Legal court orders must be followed by the executive. She must follow all legal orders promulgated by duly constituted authorities. If she won’t allow or implement the order then that’s impeachable," Nograles said.

In a related development, the Philippine National Police (PNP) raised its security alert on the expected arrival of Estrada from Hong Kong on Saturday following his knee operation.

National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief Director Avelino Razon said security plans have been drawn up against any group which might take advantage of the scheduled arrival of the deposed leader.

"We will go on full alert on Saturday during the arrival of the former president. The NCRPO is coordinating with the Police Security Protection Office for the details of his (Estrada’s) flight, and his destination," Razon said.

Razon explained the increase in the alert level will be implemented to ensure full attendance in the security requirements of the 17,000-strong NCRPO force.

On the other hand, the security of Mrs. Arroyo and Malacañang Palace is being handled by the Presidential Security Group and the Western Police District.

Razon said the PNP is "stretching" the strength and capability of its personnel amid reports of destabilization plots by supporters of the former president and the late Fernando Poe Jr., on its plans for street protests to push through its electoral protest against Mrs. Arroyo. — With Marichu Villanueva, Delon Porcalla, Christina Mendez

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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