Arroyo's Troubles Stir Speculation in Philippines
Arroyo's Troubles Stir Speculation in Philippines
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo became president of the Philippines after corruption charges forced her predecessor from power. Now Arroyo's husband, son and nephew face similar accusations. Filipinos anticipating Arroyo's departure face an old problem: Who will replace her?
LIANE HANSEN, host:
In the Philippines today, as the nation celebrated its independence day, the military was on high alert amid fears of a possible coup against the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. She's facing harsh criticism over allegations of vote rigging and corruption, and the head of the opposition has demanded that she step down. Arroyo insists that she'll stay. But NPR's Michael Sullivan reports as Arroyo's problems deepen, her political base is softening.
MICHAEL SULLIVAN reporting:
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came to power in 2001 after the ouster of President Joseph Estrada on corruption charges. Now the corruption allegations are back, and this time, they are swirling around her.
Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)
SULLIVAN: Hearings began on Monday in the Philippine senate on allegations that President Arroyo's husband and son have received millions of dollars in payoffs from operators of a popular illegal numbers game called jueteng. Several self-admitted bag men told legislators of money they said was paid directly to members of the president's family.
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SULLIVAN: President Arroyo denies any involvement in the illegal gambling racket, but Estrada's supporters are clearly delighted with the recent turn of events. After all, Estrada, who is now under house arrest, was also accused of accepting millions of dollars in jueteng payoffs and driven from power after massive street protests.
Mr. DEDOGAN DELONGALAN(ph) (Spokesman for Estrada): I think this is karma. This is karma. This is divine justice.
SULLIVAN: Dedogan Delongalan is a spokesman for former President Joseph Erap Estrada.
Mr. DELONGALAN: What she did to Erap, I think, the Filipino people will now do to her. They really do not believe in the credibility and in the leadership and competence of Mrs. Arroyo.
SULLIVAN: The president's woes have been front-page news for more than a week here in Manila. And it's not just her political enemies taking aim at her. President Arroyo has also lost the support of some in the military and the influential Catholic Church. Both groups helped drive President Estrada from power and install Mrs. Arroyo in his stead. Catholic Archbishop Oscar Cruz.
Archbishop OSCAR CRUZ: To me, she has become non-credible, and this a very big liability.
SULLIVAN: Archbishop Cruz complains Arroyo has done little to improve the economy. There are more poor people now than there were before she took office, he says. And a new 12-percent sales tax announced by Arroyo, Cruz says, will only hurt the poor even more. Cruz says President Arroyo needs to be president for all and not just the wealthy and powerful. It was Archbishop Cruz who provided the witnesses for the senate investigation into the illegal numbers game. He believes there is no doubt the president's family is involved.
Archbishop CRUZ: There are many truths that at times cannot be proven, but truths they remain. We may not have any direct proof of members of the first family receiving that because jueteng does not issue receipt. It deals in cash. But then if what we say is true, and I think everybody knows it's true, even without proving it, then some people are in trouble. You can bet dollars to dollars on this.
SULLIVAN: President Arroyo's approval ratings have plummeted in the last month or so. A recent poll gives her the lowest approval rating of any president in the post-Marcos era. On Monday, things got worse when an audiotape surfaced that critics say proves the president manipulated the results of last year's presidential election. President Arroyo's spokesman claims the tape was doctored and dismissed it as a desperate attempt by her opponents to destabilize the government. But others say the president is in trouble.
Mr. CONRADO DE QUIROS (Philippine Daily Inquirer): I wouldn't say that about a month ago. But this time, I think that the series of scandals that have broken over the last couple of weeks, I think, are fairly serious enough to threaten her term.
SULLIVAN: Conrado de Quiros is a columnist for the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Mr. DE QUIROS: Serious enough in terms of either one of two things: either a coup or another exercise of people power. She is in danger, I think, of either one of them. In the previous exercises of people power, those were nearly exactly the same conditions that we have.
SULLIVAN: President Arroyo rejects such talk. She insists the country is on the right track and that she is the only one with the credentials and vision to take the country forward. Her low approval ratings, aides say, have more to do with people's unhappiness over rising fuel prices and tough austerity measures than any allegations of corruption or vote fraud. Gabriel Claudio is political adviser to the president.
Mr. GABRIEL CLAUDIO (Political Adviser to President Arroyo): She has been making decisions that are hard, that are tough, that require sacrifices on the part of our people but she feels are very important, very necessary to put our fiscal and economic house in order and to turn around the economy and provide for the creation of more jobs and opportunities for our people.
SULLIVAN: Claudio denies there was any election fraud as the newly released audiotape suggests, and he says the president is serious when she says she will not interfere with any investigation of her family's alleged involvement in the illegal gambling scandal.
Mr. CLAUDIO: The president has said, `Let the chips fall where they may,' and she means exactly that, no matter who gets hurt. And if there's any member of the family that gets involved or if there's any proof regarding the involvement of any member of the family, then she's not one to interfere with the process of the law.
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SULLIVAN: President Arroyo is weathering the storm for now. How long she can continue to do so depends largely on whether enough people are angry enough to organize to try to force a change. Here at the monument to Mary, Our Lady of Edsa(ph), where massive people power rallies led to the ouster of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and 15 years later Joseph Estrada, many people say they are not happy with the president, but many, like this chemical engineer, Dave Ferala(ph), say they doubt there are any real alternatives.
Mr. DAVE FERALA (Chemical Engineer): Corruption has been here for so many years. Whoever the president, there is some corruption. It's a constant of this society already. But we are at this particular situation where we are really down. We have to go up. If somebody has to replace her, I doubt whether that person can really do what she is now doing. For the current situation, this is the most qualified to do the job.
SULLIVAN: That's a sentiment heard often on the streets these days, and one that helps explain how and why President Arroyo may last, despite the latest scandals and the people's unhappiness with her performance so far. Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Manila.
HANSEN: It's 18 minutes past the hour.
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