As far as is known, De Castro's current political ambition is a negative one. He does not want President Arroyo to step down. A news report claims that this July, when Mrs. Arroyo was supposedly thinking of packing it in, De Castro and executive Eduardo Ermita prevailed upon her to stay put. The vice president, according to the story, vehemently said he wasn't ready to be president.
How can Mrs. Arroyo not help but feel fondness for such a man, the best investment she ever made in the parade of political lightweights and nonentities she's brought to government service? No doubt she's congratulated herself on the decision to take him on as her running mate. She should also be grateful her vice president hasn't proved as enterprising as she herself was in similar circumstances (five years ago, when she was vice president, Mrs. Arroyo denounced then President Estrada even before his impeachment trial started and called on him to resign for the sake of the country and the economy).
Even more important for the administration, De Castro has been silent and docile about the Garci scandal. Perhaps he's waiting for someone to hand him a script. After all, it's what he does best, and what he owes his meteoric political rise to: reading a teleprompter and saying "magandang gabi bayan" in a deep, pompous voice.
The fact is, De Castro's swift transformation from news reader to senator and then vice president owes nothing to any skills in governance, management or politics. He simply followed the route taken by basketball players, toilet comedians and bad actors, parlaying media visibility and popularity into votes. The vice president has never run a company, managed a business, nor (unlike Mrs. Arroyo) headed a government agency. It is unlikely that his madcap gallop from senator to vice president (he didn't even bother to finish his term in the senate) has given him any experience or preparation for national politics and statecraft.
Given these deficits, it's understandable why Vice President De Castro would feel incapable of taking Mrs. Arroyo's place. His candor is admirable, but all the same, the question is, why did this man ever run for office to begin with? The depressing answer seems to be, because he knew he'd win.
What De Castro's career illustrates is not a failure of the presidential system, but a degradation of Philippine political culture. It's why there will be no happy endings to this crisis, no matter what the outcome.
For months, the prevailing view has been that junking Mrs. Arroyo and replacing her with De Castro would be a short hop from the wok to the flames. Now it's just a matter of time before the public, alarmed by the way the president is draining the treasury and deforming political institutions in her bid to stay on, will grasp the knife blade.
There is a lot of talk about a caretaker government but given this country's obsession with legalism, chances are fair to good that the vice president will wind up the chief executive. Filipinos are staring at the bottom of the political barrel. Staring back up at them is the face of Noli de Castro.