Philippines: Arroyo Survives Another Crisis


Patricio N Abinales

After three weeks of silence, President Gloria Arroyo finally admitted that she called a senior official of the Commission on Elections to seek his assurance that her lead in the last May 2004 presidential elections in the Muslim Mindanao provinces would be preserved. Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano guaranteed her that his people would take care of the numbers.

On June 27, Arroyo apologized for a 'lapse in judgment' and for not immediately addressing revelations of taped conversations between Garcillano, herself, and her allies on how to manipulate the election results. A seemingly contrite Arroyo closed her 10-minute speech with a promise to put all this politicking behind and go back to implementing her reform agenda.

Her allies hailed the apology but not everyone rose to her defense. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism revealed ( that it was the threat of 12 of her more respected Cabinet officials to resign that forced her to make the public apology.

But Arroyo also delivered her mea culpa knowing that she is going to survive this crisis. Her credibility may have suffered considerably, but her opponents also lacked the necessary power and support to bring about regime change.

A large portion of the public has clearly lost respect for Arroyo, but this majority is equally tired of using the streets to depose leaders. The urban middle class - a crucial group in past uprisings - shares the opposition's revulsion towards presidential duplicity, but it is just as appalled by the composition of the anti-Arroyo coalition: supporters of deposed President Joseph Estrada, old Marcos loyalists, retired military officers, and legal organizations of the Communist Party of the Philippines. What one columnist calls a cabal of 'communists and clowns' is not exactly a sight that can inspire middle class anger.

Impeachment is likewise out of the question. Arroyo's legislative coalition remains intact. And as long as presidential patronage continues to benefit politicians, and the president reins in reformist efforts to destroy an illegal numbers game producing revenues, which a political aspirant needs for the next round of elections, Arroyo will not be short of congressional support.

Finally, the continuing good performance by certain state agencies has helped Arroyo. Tax collection has improved tremendously and the Bureau of Internal Revenue is showing signs that it is taking its campaign to prosecute tax evaders seriously. The privatization in the energy sector has not been affected, while the government's peace commissioners have received the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front's assurance that it will be in Kuala Lumpur when the peace negotiations start.

These 'islands of efficiency' are, of course, small victories for a government still mired in corruption, mismanagement and factional infighting. Their successes and the military and police establishments' reaffirmation of support for her are enough for Arroyo to express with confidence, after making her apology, that she will serve her full term.

WATCHPOINT: Given that what is keeping Arroyo in power is her electoral coalition and the military, two narrow bases of support, and given a record low public perception of her presidency, how much of her reform agenda can she implement in her remaining years as president?


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