Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Takes Helm in Philippines

Receives Wide Popular Support After Estrada´s Ouster

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MANILA, Philippines, JAN. 21, 2001 (
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a onetime classmate of Bill Clinton, was sworn in as 14th president of the Philippines on Saturday, before a great multitude who gathered at the Edsa shrine.

«This time, it isn´t a victory against dictatorship but against immorality, corruption and avarice,» exclaimed the archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Jaime Sin.

Macapagal-Arroyo was sworn in after President Joseph Estrada was ousted by the nation´s Supreme Court. He had previously been impeached on charges of corruption. The new president said she has spent much of the weekend working to form a new Cabinet.

In a brief speech, President Macapagal-Arroyo outlined the four priorities of her mandate: to defeat poverty over a decade; to improve the moral level of the government and society; to change policies to implement genuine reforms; and, lastly, to offer leadership based on example, not rhetoric.

For the second time in the country´s history, a Catholic woman has succeeded an «immoral» president — a description used by the bishops for Ferdinand Marcos and now applied to deposed President Estrada.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo personifies the values that impelled the Philippine people to turn against dictator Marcos 15 years ago. Now they were back on the streets to topple corrupt Estrada from office.

Macapagal-Arroyo was backed by the sector that led that peaceful, and markedly Catholic revolution of 1986, but also by the greater part of the country´s democratic forces. She appeared dressed in yellow before the masses, the color of the «People´s Power,» on the eve of her taking office.

As an expression of their support, the new president, whom AsianWeek describes as one of the most influential in Asia, was accompanied by the leaders of the 1986 revolution: Cardinal Sin, Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos, the general who supported that movement and later succeeded Aquino in the presidency.

Renato Corona, spokesman for Macapagal-Arroyo, said the new president had rejected Estrada´s unofficial appeal for amnesty as a condition to present his resignation from the presidency. «Estrada is not in a position to negotiate or make concessions,» Corona said. «The only option he has is resignation.»

The new president enjoys wide popular support; over the last few years, she has achieved several records in the Philippine´s democratic history.

According to her official biography, in 1995 she received almost 16 million votes, the largest number of votes for a candidate in the country´s history. In 1998, she won by a margin of 7 million votes over her nearest rival, the widest margin in Philippine history. Beginning in December 1994, and for the next five years, surveys placed her at the top of the list of Filipinos´ preference.

The new president is the daughter of Diosdado Macapagal, the democratic president who preceded Marcos, and who was known for his integrity and simple, dignified lifestyle. Under her father´s mandate, the Philippines was second, after Japan, in terms of economic development in Asia.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo studied in the Catholic school of the Assumption. She later graduated magna cum laude in business from the university of the same name. She did two years of graduate studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where she was a classmate of future U.S. President Clinton. Eventually, she received a doctorate in economics from the University of the Philippines.

During the administration of President Cory Aquino, she was undersecretary of the Ministry of Trade and Industry. In 1992 she was elected senator, and during her term she wrote 55 laws related to social and economic reforms. She was elected vice president in 1998 and appointed Minister of Social Welfare and Development by Estrada.

Macapagal-Arroyo has demonstrated her capabilities not only as an economist but also as an educator (she has been a professor of economics at several universities), journalist (while in office during the Aquino administration she had a television program for rural workers), and an official of the State Administration.

She is married to José Miguel Tuason Arroyo, a lawyer and businessman, and grandchild of José María Arroyo, the last senator of Iloilo. They have three children: Mikey, Luli and Dato.

Macapagal-Arroyo was proposed for the Senate by various associations and publications, and elected «Woman of the Year» by the Catholic Education Association of the Philippines. As Minister of Social Welfare and Development, she introduced «Ahon Bayan,» a fund to collect donations for social projects in her department, as well as «Ahon Bata sa Lansangan,» an initiative in favor of street children.

The expansion of the Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (CIDSS), and the implementation of Early Childhood Development Projects are among her greatest commitments.

Yet, it remains to be seen whether Macapagal-Arroyo will be able to obtain broad popular backing, after the chaotic years the Philippines experienced during the presidency of populist Joseph Estrada, a television actor.

Father Alessandro Vavassori, a missionary in the Philippines for decades, offered his view. «Yes, she is a popular person,» he said. «Let´s say she doesn´t enjoy Cory Aquino´s popularity, but she is very much loved by the people.»

According to Italian Father Vavassori, who works in Manila, «Cardinal Sin appealed to the people to mobilize, and the people responded to his call in defense of truth. Catholic schools suspended classes to allow teachers and students to participate in the protests.»

Macapagal-Arroyo was recognized immediately by some of the most influential countries, including Japan, Thailand, Australia, Canada and the United States. She also received best wishes from the Chinese government, who described her as a «friend,» recalling her visit to Beijing when she was vice president.

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