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Noli de Castro still top pick for 2010 - SWS

MANILA, Philippines - Three of 10 Filipinos prefer Vice-President Noli L. de Castro to succeed President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo when her term ends in 2010, a new survey from the Social Weather Stations (SWS) showed. Mr. de Castro’s results, while down slightly from the last poll, allowed him to stay the top pick for the last three quarters in a list of likely presidential aspirants, most of whom are aligned with the opposition. Close behind was Senator Loren Legarda, in second place at 26%, a result that was also down slightly. She has been in second place for the last two polls after dropping to third in December 2007 and leading the list at 44% in September of that year. Senate President Manuel B. Villar gained significantly for the period, rising to third with 25% from a fourth place 17% three months earlier. His best showing so far was 27% last December. The only other gainer was Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, in fourth with 16% from seventh in March. The other picks are Senator Francis G. Escudero, still fifth but with a lower score of 14% from 19% previously; Senator Manual "Mar" A. Roxas, down one place with 13%; former President Joseph "Erap" E. Estrada, also down a place with 11%, and Senator Francis N. Pangilinan, eighth with 2%. The survey, made exclusive to BusinessWorld, was conducted from June 27 to 30. It used face-to-face interviews of 1,200 adults divided into random samples of 300 each in Metro Manila, the rest of Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao. The question posed was: "Under the present Constitution, the term of President Arroyo is up to 2010 only and there will be an election for a new president in May 2010. Who do you think are the good leaders who should succeed President Arroyo as president?" The respondents were not provided a list of names and were allowed to cite up to three persons. Fifteen percent of the respondents said they did not know who was the best leader to succeed Mrs. Arroyo, while 8% said there was none. Mr. de Castro said he welcomed results and did not confirm nor deny that he was looking to run for the presidency in 2010. He vowed, however, to continue with his current duties, that of helping overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and providing affordable housing for the poor. "I thank the people for their continued trust and confidence in me as shown in my topping of the survey," the vice-president said in a text message. "This shows that people recognize the dedication I have given to my work. I will not take advantage of the people’s support for my political gain or political mileage," he added. "As housing czar, I will intensify my efforts to provide decent and affordable housing to our people. As presidential adviser on OFWs, I will continue to promote the welfare and interest of our OFWs." Ms. Legarda and Mr. Villar were not immediately available for comment. Mr. Escudero, meanwhile, said: "I am thankful of course for their (the respondents) belief in me even if I am not yet qualified by age [to run for President]. But it is not an accurate survey given that it’s (the presidency) a one on one and not a collegial fight." The Constitution requires a presidential candidate to be at least 40 years old. Mr. Escudero, at 38, is not eligible as he will turn 40 only in October 2010, a little over three months after the next president is supposed to take office. Margaux Salcedo, a spokesman of Mr. Estrada, said the survey showed that people still trusted the former President. "This is an indication that despite the accusations against him by those responsible for his ouster, there are still a lot of Filipinos who believe in him. This will make him feel vindicated," she said. Mr. Estrada was ousted in 2001 via a popular revolt following allegations that he used his position to amass wealth. He was convicted for plunder in September 2007 but was granted a pardon by Mrs. Arroyo a month later. Ms. Salcedo also said the fact that almost all who figured in the survey were not aligned with Mrs. Arroyo showed the "frustration" of the public. "The fact that all names in the survey are from the opposition save for Noli indicates ... that the Filipino people are frustrated with the administration ... If the opposition unites for 2010, it will be an unbeatable force," she claimed. Messrs. Roxas and Pangilinan, meanwhile, were also unavailable for comment. Political analyst Ramon C. Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said Mr. de Castro’s having topped the survey does not mean he can win the 2010 elections. "It is still because of his popularity ... Popularity is important during elections but [the political] machinery is a big factor. It is important for a candidate to ensure that there are sectors who would campaign for him," Mr. Casiple said. He also said it was too early to determine who will have the advantage in the upcoming polls. "Nothing is at stake for now. People will seriously think about elections by the end of 2009. For now, things are still volatile," Mr. Casiple said.