GLORIA MACAPAGAL-ARROYO: PRESIDENT OF THE PHILIPPINES 2001 TO 2010

GLORIA MACAPAGAL-ARROYO

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo succeeded Estrada as president. The daughter of Diosdado Macapagal, the president of the Philippines in the early 1960s, she was Estrada’s vice president and became president after he was ousted in 2001. Altogether she served nine years a president, three years of Estrada’s term (from 2001 to 2004) and six years after she was elected in 2004 (2004 to 2010).

Arroyo is very small and well-dressed and has a prominent mole on the left side of her nose. She was often dwarfed by the foreign leaders. When she became president she was coached to smile more, use simple sound bites and encouraged to liven up her professorial monotone. She was sometimes called the “Queen” and despite here best attempts to be otherwise she was never truly embraced by the Philippines’s poor. She was supported more by business leaders and the political elite.

Arroyo characterized herself as a troubleshooter who went about her job like a doctor cleaning an infection rather than a hero who overpowered problems with a slash from a sword. Her years in power were characterized by political divisions, severe poverty, a sluggish economy, military unrest, problems with terrorists and insurgents, corruption and efforts to impeach her.

Arroyo dominated Philippine politics in the first decade of the 21th century, Steven Rood of the Asia Foundation wrote, first in January 2001 as a vice president who succeeded President Joseph Estrada on the heels of a “people power” protest. She then went on to serve as president longer than any since Ferdinand Marcos when she won a full six-year term in May 2004. That election was marred by significant controversy that peaked when an audio recording was leaked purporting to reveal Ms. Arroyo on the phone with Commission on Election Commissioner Garcillano talking about padding her vote margin. Her popularity (as measured by periodic citizen surveys) subsequently plumbed to depths never before reached in Philippine politics, and has consistently remained low for five years.” [Source: Steven Rood, Asia Foundation, April 7, 2010]

Since Arroyo’s full name---Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo—is a mouthful, she is popularly known by her initials 'GMA' in the Philippines. According to Lonely Planet: “Estrada tried a few ploys to regain power - like calling for yet another 'people's revolution' - but it was for naught. GMA quickly set about consolidating her power and she allowed the American military back into the country as part of the 'war on terror'. In 2004 she ran for reelection against an ensemble cast of characters that included another ex-actor, Fernando Poe Jr, and won by 1.1 million votes. Or did she? Shortly thereafter a recording emerged that purported to capture GMA ordering that the election be fixed. Political opponents seized on this and for the next year, much of the government's time was spent debating the charges of election fraud. GMA's opponents tried to raise the ire of the public - but perhaps jaded by the outcomes of previous revolutions, the populace mostly stayed off the streets. By late 2005, GMA seemed to have survived this latest political upheaval, as the Philippines continued to suffer from high unemployment, poverty and other problems that have bedevilled it for decades.

Arroyo’s Life

Arroyo is the daughter of Diosdado Macapagal, the president of the Philippines in the early 1960s. She was born in 1947 and grew up in Lubao, Pampanga, with her two older siblings from her father's first marriage, and Iligan City, with her maternal grandmother, and split her time between Mindanao and Manila until the age of 11. She is fluent in English, Tagalog, Spanish and several other Philippine languages, most importantly, Kapampangan, Ilokano, and Cebuano.

Gloria’s father was elected president when she was 14. After that she lived in Malacanang Palace and had a municipality named in her honor, Gloria, Oriental Mindoro. Gloria was always attracted to power and was a high achiever. Arroyo graduated at the top of her class from Lubai Central Elementary School and was valedictorian at Assumption Convent high school in 1964. When she was teenager she attracted a following by writing a column on local newspapers.

Arroyo attended Georgetown University for two years and was a classmate of U.S. President Bill Clinton and made the dean’s list. She then earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Assumption College, graduating magna cum laude in 1968. She eventually earned a Ph.D. in macroeconomics. She then became an economics professor.

Arroyo is a devout Roman Catholic, who was often has a Bible in her hand. She sought the advice of her father after he was dead by regularly consulting his memoirs Stone for the Edifice. Arroyo is married to Jose Miguel Arroyo, lawyer and businessman from Binalbagan, Negros Occidental, whom she had met while still a teenager. He is member of one of the Philippines’s richest families. She has three children. The most well known is her oldest son, Jose “Datu Mikey” Miguel. Arroyo was a good friend of Corazon Aquino.

Arroyo’s Political Career

In 1987, Arroyo was invited by President Corazon Aquino to join the government as Assistant Secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry. She was promoted to Undersecretary two years later. In her concurrent position as Executive Director of the Garments and Textile Export Board, Arroyo oversaw the rapid growth of the garment industry in the late 1980s.

Arroyo was the biggest vote getter in the 1995 election for Senator (Several Philippine Senators are elected at one time by being the top vote getters in a group of candidates). She won with the highest number of votes in election history. While serving as a senator from 1992 to 1998, Arroyo authored 55 bills, including legislation that promoted privatization and trade. Arroyo was also the top vote getter when she ran as vice president. She changed parties three times, based more on her desire to further her political career than on ideology. People who worked with her described her disciplined, deliberate, a perfectionist, never impulsive.

Arroyo was an opposition vice president when she took that office in 1998. In the Philippines the president and vice president are voted on and elected separately and president Joseph Estrada was from a different party. Estrada put her in charge of the Department of Social Welfare and Development. In that position she showed her concern for the needy by traveling to every province, delivery food and relief supplies to the poor.

Arroyo Becomes President and the Ouster of Estrada

Arroyo kept mostly quiet on Estrada’s trouble until the very end. In October 2000 as Estrada’s situation was becoming more and more tenuous, Arroyo quit her cabinet post, most believe out of ambition rather than ethics. Her timing was perfect. She was quickly embraced by the opposition as a replacement for Estrada and became the leader of the opposition. At that time she began assembling a transition team so “she could hit the ground running” in the event she became president.

Arroyo was sworn as president on January 21, 2001, hours after Estrada was ousted and the same day that U.S. President George Bush was sworn into office. After Estrada supporters marched to Malacañang Palace,, Arroyo branded the violence as an attempt to grab power and declared a “state of rebellion” and ordered the arrest of 11 prominent military officers and opposition leaders.

In March 2001, the Supreme Court confirmed the legitimacy of Arroyo’s presidency in a vote of 13-0. In a 68-page ruling the court said that Estrada effectively quit when the left the presidential palace grounds and cited a statement by Estrada that read, “I leave the palace of our people with gratitude for the opportunities given to me for service of our people.”

Arroyo’s accession to power was further legitimated by the mid-term congressional and local elections, when her coalition later won an overwhelming victory, but the elections were fraught with allegations of coercion, fraud, and vote buying. In the May 2001 senatorial election, her allies won by a thin margin. The election was viewed as a de fact referendum on Arroyo’s rule. But at least 78 people were killed in campaign-related violence, including one Congressman and 17 candidates. In one town mortar shells exploded outside the town hall while voters were voting, sending them into a panic. In another town a boy heaved a grenade into a voting station. In another, a policemen was killed as gunmen made off with ballot boxes. One congressman and his bodyguard were killed by six gunmen as he stepped out of his car to attend a campaign rally.

Arroyo as President

Arroyo was supported by the military, the business elite and the Catholic church. In her early years she generally had high approval ratings. Support for Estrada remained strong in some communities in the early years of her rule. Many viewed her an usurper who took power from an elected official—Estrada. When she visited poor neighborhoods, where Estrada was popular, she was greeted with chants of “ Erap pa rin” (“We are still for Erap”).

Arroyo was regarded as a hard worker and a professional. She reportedly showed up for work at 6:00am and worked 16 hours a day, six days a week. Initially she was a welcome change from Estrada’s gambling, womanizing and drinking binges. Arroyo promised to lift 40 percent of Filipinos out poverty, cut the unemployment rate from 10 percent to 6 percent and eradicate corruption.

But it seemed that many Filipinos were more concerned about her appearance than her policies. In one press conference shortly after becoming president she said she had no plans to remove her beauty mark and did not consider herself particularly pretty. She described her husband as a “dreamboat” and said she would have to wear skirt to meetings to be respected. Newspapers criticized her grey suits and suggested that she wear more colorful and more feminine clothes. Many papers ran sketches of how she would look in different cloths, hairstyles and make up.

Arroyo’s Early Yeas as President

Arroyo’s initial term in office was marked by fractious coalition politics as well as a military mutiny in Manila in July 2003 that led her to declare a month-long nationwide state of rebellion, as a result of which charges were filed against more than 1,000 individuals. To strengthen her power base, Arroyo embarked on a program aimed at improving the life of the poor. Arroyo initially made a sincere effort to tackle corruption. One of her first moves as preside was to order the sale of all luxury cars that Estrada gave senior bureaucrats. She told her staff to live simply and said no one, not even members of her family, were above the law.

As time went on there were increasing accusations that Arroyo’s administration was corrupt and ineffectual. Her own husband was accused of taking a $2.5 million bribe in an effort to get him to influence his wife on a major telecom deal. Arroyo herself was accused of making too many television appearances, lacking substance and lacking the toughness to bring about real change.

Arroyo was unable to achieve many of her goals and carry out programs she proposed due to political opposition, mainly from the ruling elite. Arroyo and her cabinet said that the political fighting and sniping exhausted and frustrated them deeply.

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Economy Under Arroyo

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was welcomed with great fanfare when she became president in 2001. The day she was sworn in, the stock market surged 30 percent and businessmen praised her skills and abilities, Arroyo launched free market and anti-corruption policies that were welcomed by both the local and international business communities. Again there was a sense of hope.

But again the sense optimism didn’t last long. Investment dried up as a result of global slowdowns and security concerns. Direct foreign investment was only $319 million in 2001 compared to $1.8 billion in 1992.

Growth was 3.4 percent in 2001, 4.3 percent in 2002 and 4.5 percent in 2003. In 2004 the economy was hurt by high oil prices. Still more growth was needed just to keep pace with 2.36 percent population growth rate. Inflation was less than 6 percent but the deficit grew at an alarming rate as the government spending increased and tax revenues fell. Raising revenues became one of the main problems. In 2003, the deficit reached $3.6 billion and debt was estimated to be over $100 billion. The government’s debt burden reached its peak in 2004 when it settled at 74 percent of GDP.

Arroyo began her second term in 2004 with promises of “austerity and simplicity” and the announcement of a reform package to fight corruption, attract foreign investment, and make the Philippines less dependent on foreign energy. She promised to create 10 million jobs by 2010 and announced that power rates would be doubled to avert an energy crisis, She also promised to provide clean water and electricity to every village in the Philippines and build 3,000 schools. The plan called for the seemingly impossible combination of increased spending, higher taxes and a balanced budget in five years.

Arroyo’s economic drive quickly lost momentum. She was unable to over come political opposition to privatizing companies like the National Power Corporation, which lost $1.8 billion in 2003. Instead an effort was made to make them efficient. By the end of her term much of her time was spent responding to charges that she rigged the 2004 elections and he was husband was involved in kickback scheme with a Chinese company involving millions of dollars.

Growth in 2003 and 2004 was around 5 percent due in art to rising demand for Philippines electronic exports. Growth occurred despite continued hikes in oil and consumer prices on top of typhoons and floods. Growth was 4.7 percent in 2005. That year exports amounted to 40 percent of GDP. Many of the export items were electronics. Two-thirds of Philippine imports are used to build exported computer parts, disks and other electronic products made by local units of companies such as Texas Instruments Inc. and Toshiba Corp.

Philippines Economy Picks Up in the Mid-2000s

Arroyo was an economics professor after all and not everything that happened under her watch was a failure. In fact she had many good ideas and policy schemes but they were overshadowed by her political troubles and bogged down in Congress. In 2007, before the global economic crisis took hold, The Economist reported: Things are looking up. The economy has grown by at least 5 percent in each of the past three years, for the first time since the 1970s. In the first quarter of this year, growth was 6.9 percent, year-on-year. Soaring remittances from Filipinos overseas help. Last year they added up to $12.8 billion, equivalent to 11 percent of GDP. Exports—especially to China and most particularly of microchips—are also booming. [Source: The Economist, August 16, 2007 *-*]

“Better economic management also helps. Inflation is now 2.6 percent, down from 8.6 percent in 2004. Changes made in 2005 have increased tax revenues without hurting growth. Despite recent wobbles, the government should still come close to balancing the budget next year, compared with a deficit of over 5 percent of GDP in 2002. The country's banks, hurt badly in the 1997 Asian financial crisis, have been slow to recover, but now they are starting to lend again. Foreign direct investment is picking up from a low base. Texas Instruments recently chose the Philippines over China for a $1 billion electronics factory, while Hanjin, a South Korean shipbuilder, will spend $1.7 billion on its Philippines yard. Foreign mining firms have started to develop huge untapped mineral reserves. *-*

“The Philippines has rapidly emerged as India's main rival in business-process outsourcing (BPO) and now hosts the call-centres of many American firms. A recent study by the Asian Development Bank reckoned that BPO could provide jobs for up to 11 percent of those joining the Philippines' labour force between now and 2010. *-*

Military Mutiny Against Arroyo in 2003

In July 2003, 300 junior officers and soldiers staged a revolt against the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. They seized a Manila hotel, apartment complex and shopping mall in the Makato financial district in Manila and took several hundred hostages for a while. No shots were fired but the mutineers said they had rigged a huge area with explosives and threatened to set them off it their demands were not met. It was the ninth uprising in 17 years.

The officers made allegations of corruption, complained how they suffered while retired officers lived well, accused the military of selling arms to terrorists and Muslim insurgents and set off bombs to blame insurgents and demanded that certain government officials, including the Defense Secretary and the national police chief, resign. The officers were regarded as band of Young Turks, Their average age was only 27. One of them said, “We are not attempting to grab power. We are just trying to express our grievances.”

The mutiny ended after 19 hours after intense negotiations. The soldiers went back to their barracks and faced court martial charges after authorities agreed to investigate the corruption charges and other complaints. When the whole episode was over one of the mutineers told the media, “We were ready to die but gave up for the sake of our comrades in the military and the interest of the people and the country.”

The mutiny was well organized. This led some to include that it was not the work of idealistic young officers but had the support of some senior military personnel. Some thought the whole affair was orchestrated by conservative military leaders and Estrada. After the mutiny a group of junior military officer and a top aid to Estrada were arrested. An army intelligence chief was forced to resign for not getting wind of the plot.

There were other incidents involving the military. In November 2003, a former Air Transport Office chief and a navy reserve officers, armed with guns and explosives, sized control of a control tower at Manila airport. The two men said they wanted to expose government corruption. After several attempts to get them to surrender and worries about airport operations, authorities ordered that the two men be shot and killed. Ironically the first plane to land after the two men were killed was piloted by the son of the former Air Transport Office chief.

Aftermath of the 2003 Military Mutiny Against Arroyo

After the mutiny, Arroyo announced some reforms in the military: a strengthening of the chain of command, better allocation of resources, and ways to lift morale and reduce opportunities for corruption. Some high level military people were investigated for corruption. In August, 321 soldiers and officers were indicted for staging a coup. A former aid of Estrada, Ramon Cardenas, was charged with rebellion for letting the mutineers use his house as a staging area for their plot.

More than 80 officers and 200 enlisted men were court-martialed for the July 2003 mutiny. A few dozen were cleared because they were found to have been misled into taking part. In 2005, the enlisted personnel were freed from army detention and restored to active service after they agreed to enter into plea-bargaining deals, accepting minor punishments. A few days before Christmas in 2007 Arroyo ordered the early release of 53 military officers still in jail for their involvement in the 2003 failed mutiny against her. The 53 officers were serving 4-½ year sentences. As of 2007, Twenty-nine officers, considered to be the leaders of the 2003 failed mutiny, were still facing charges in both civilian and military courts. Except for two officers, the rest have agreed to a deal to accept minor punishments and be discharged.[Source: Reuters, December 20, 2007]

In 2008, Carlos H. Conde, wrote in the New York Times, “A Philippine court sentenced nine military officers to prison terms ranging from 6 years to up to 40 years for participating in a 2003 coup attempt against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The officers were among 31 accused of raiding and occupying a hotel in Manila’s business district on July 27, 2003, to protest corruption in the military and demand reforms. Judge Oscar Pimentel, who presided over the trial, sentenced two officers — Capt. Gerardo Gambala and Capt. Milo Maestrecampo of the army’s elite Scout Rangers unit — to 40 years and the other seven to sentences ranging from 6 to 12 years. [Source: Carlos H. Conde, New York Times, April 9, 2008 ^*^]

“Prosecutors said the sentences were harsher than they had expected. “The decision caught us by surprise,” said Richard Fadullon, one of the prosecutors, adding that they had requested a maximum 20-year sentence for the leaders. The military chief of staff, Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, said: “Our judicial system is taking its due course. I appreciate them for having pleaded guilty.” The officers changed their pleas last week to guilty, raising speculation that they had reached a deal with the prosecution. Prosecutors and defense lawyers denied that a plea bargain had been arranged. However, Trixie Angeles, a lawyer representing several of the accused, said the officers could expect a presidential pardon because they changed their plea. “It would be normal for us to expect pardon,” Ms. Angeles said. She said that General Esperon had been “instrumental” in the officers’ decision to plead guilty. ^*^

“In December, 53 soldiers jailed in a different coup attempt were released after pleading guilty. Several of the accused in the 2003 mutiny, including Captains Gambala and Maestrecampo, had publicly apologized to President Arroyo. Prosecutors had argued that the mutiny was part of a larger plot to oust the president and install a civilian-military junta. ^*^

“A navy lieutenant, Antonio Trillanes, who led the 2003 mutiny, said that corruption was so rampant in the armed forces that soldiers were dying because of inadequate supplies and facilities, an allegation that the military denied. He also accused the military and the Arroyo administration of having had a hand in bombings in the southern Philippines that killed many civilians, a charge that the government also dismissed. Lieutenant Trillanes and another officer accused of being a mutiny leader, Captain Nicanor Faeldon of the Marines, are facing a criminal trial on the same charges and a separate court-martial. ^*^

“In November, Captain Faeldon, Lieutenant Trillanes and other military officers walked out of court and briefly occupied another Manila hotel, calling for Mrs. Arroyo’s resignation. Captain Faeldon remains at large after having eluded a police dragnet during that incident. Lieutenant Trillanes ran for a Senate seat last year and won, even though he remains in detention awaiting trial. “ ^*^

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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