Ms. Gloria Arroyo said she has never entertained the idea even if she is in her last 11 months as representative of Pampanga’s second district.
But the brazenness by which she ascended to the speakership, even to the extent of upstaging President Duterte in front of the diplomatic corps, during her last 11 months in Congress, betrays her feigned passiveness towards a position of enormous power.
Provisions in the present constitution prevents her from running again for president and from running for a fourth term as representative of the 3rd district of Pampanga. Such provisions would be absent in the new constitution as hinted by members of the consultative committee on charter change.
Upon being installed Speaker, Ms. Arroyo said her first and foremost job is to carry out the legislative agenda of President Duterte and by the President’s own pronouncement that legislative agenda is charter change.
Yet just days after being installed as Speaker, she was distributing relief goods in the flooded areas of Bataan and Pampanga, activities very much akin to a political campaign rather than to legislative work. When asked why she was doing that, she explained that it was to understand better the problems that congressmen are faced with so she can help them in meeting the needs of their districts. Her answer makes congressmen appear incompetent in appreciating the problems of their district that she has to see for herself what the problem is.
She may not be aspiring to become prime minister but obviously she is already campaigning for a national position. If the proposed constitution is federal presidential as she says, then it is the presidency she aspires for. The proposed constitution would not bar her from running for president.
She has in the past evinced a preference for a parliamentary form of government. Recovering from her near ouster towards the end of 2005 due to the Garci tapes expose, she formed a constitutional consultative body, in contravention to law, composed of people known to be advocates of a parliamentary system. Such a system would have allowed her, as leader of the majority party, to continue to rule as prime minister beyond 2010. As expected, the members came up with a draft constitution that set no limit to the terms of the prime minister and that would abolish the Senate.
However, the move to amend the Constitution didn’t prosper in Congress. Thwarted, the Arroyo-allied groups Sigaw ng Bayan and Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines filed a petition with the Commission on Elections to hold a plebiscite that would ratify their initiative petition. They claim that their petition had the support of more than six million individuals constituting at least 12% of all registered voters, with each legislative district represented by at least 3% of its registered voters. They also claimed that Comelec election registrars had verified the signatures of the 6.3 million individuals.
The initiative petition would modify sections of the Constitution that would shift the present bicameral-presidential system to a unicameral-parliamentary form of government. But the COMELEC denied due course to the petition for lack of an enabling law governing initiative petitions to amend the Constitution.
President Arroyo’s minions would not be deterred. They asked the Supreme Court to rule that the Comelec committed grave abuse of discretion in denying due course to their petition. The Court ruled that the group miserably failed to comply with the basic requirements of the Constitution for conducting a people’s initiative.
That is Gloria Arroyo ever scheming to gain more power or retain power.
As she could not could not get a major party to support her presidential bid in 1998, she had to agree to be the vice presidential candidate of Lakas-NUCD. And so she travelled all over the country, using her maiden and better known name Macapagal, making herself up to look like the bakya crowd’s idol, Nora Aunor, and telling the same simple-minded crowd that she was the classmate of Bill Clinton. She won but Lakas-NUCD’s standard bearer Jose de Venecia lost to the actor Joseph “Erap” Estrada.
As vice president, she saw no evil and heard no evil, when she, as the titular head of the opposition, was duty-bound to take issue with President Estrada’s hollow programs, self-serving policies, and dubious acts. She refused to take a stand on the many issues confronting the nation, choosing instead to only stand and wait — for Erap to self-destruct, physically or politically.
Some said she would have appeared over-eager to become president had she joined the movement to remove Erap from Malacañang as she was next in the line of succession to the presidency. Well, she eventually joined the clamor, but only when the fall of Erap became imminent.
Erap eventually fell.
By virtue of the constitutional provisions, Vice President Gloria Macapagal became president. “I am President of EDSA II.” She declared. But she was only an incidental consequence of EDSA II, “Anak ng EDSA, sa labas,” as Conrad de Quiros of the Inquirer put it so aptly.
As the name Macapagal had served its usefulness, she told media that from then on she would be called Gloria Arroyo.
As president she visited provinces, including far away Abra, distributing assorted packs of foodstuffs and canned goods for indigent families. She awarded checks of P850,000 to each of the municipalities representing the balance of the counterpart fund for the seeds and planting materials program of the Department of Agriculture. A subaltern in the Department of Social Welfare could have distributed goodies to indigent families as an underling in the Department of Agriculture could have delivered the checks. But she chose to act as delivery or messenger girl because she believed in the power of the politics of patronage, power that would be useful for her in the elections of 2004.
To increase her chances of winning in the 2004 presidential election, she appointed her husband special envoy to the millions of Filipinos working overseas. She had been president for almost two years and never during that period did she show special concern for the overseas Filipino workers.
But because the bill allowing overseas Filipino voters to vote in Philippine elections had become law, she suddenly showed serious concern for those Filipinos by appointing her husband special envoy to them. The public saw the appointment as another cheap shot at winning the goodwill, and consequently, the votes of about seven million Filipino voters.
In October 2003, she announced that she was not going to run for president in 2004.
She made it appear she was making a great sacrifice when she made the decision. Said she in December: “My reading of the political winds tells me that the 2004 elections may well go down in history as among the most bitterly contested elections ever. Consequently, we may end up stalling national growth for a few years more. In view of this, I have decided not to run for president during the elections of 2004.”
At the time she made her decision not to run, the chance of being elected president seemed only a faint hope.
She was trailing Raul Roco, Fernando Poe, Jr., and Noli de Castro among the possible presidential candidates in the surveys. Only 11% of those polled said they would vote for her.
Then Roco was diagnosed as seriously sick. De Castro was prevailed (people suspected by the president) upon to run for vice president.
So, she decided to run for president after all.
Said she: “I have deferred my retirement. I will sacrifice my yearnings for personal quiet and release from presidential strain and anxiety. And I will offer myself to the electorate in 2004 as the leader with the experience and vision necessary to change society, to achieve economic development, and eliminate poverty. Tatakbo ako sa pagka-pangulo sa eleksyon ng Mayo 2004. I see the need for a greater sacrifice and I will make it.”
Her deciding not to run for president in 2004 was a great sacrifice. When she decided to run after all, she was making a greater sacrifice.
In July 2005, her calling Comelec Commissioner Garcillano was revealed. People called for her resignation. “I am not resigning my office,” came the defiant response from her. Said she, “I was duly elected to uphold the Constitution and ensure that the institutions of the nation were strengthened, not weakened.”
But it is precisely the legitimacy of her election that was being challenged. Wire-tapped recording of a conversation between her and Comelec’s Garcillano strongly indicated a deliberate attempt to subvert the will of the electorate.
From then on the Arroyo presidency was characterized by Machiavellian machinations to hang on to fast-eroding power and influence. That same character is now manifesting itself but this time to regain power and influence.
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a member of Manindigan! a cause-oriented group of businessmen, professionals, and academics.