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Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo shall have been President for two years by January 20, 2003. It is unlikely that her approval ratings, currently at six percent, will see any dramatic improvement by then.

From that date to the election of 2004 is a scant 14 months. Mrs. Arroyo will have only that much time to arrest the downward slide of her approval ratings, and to reverse it enough for her to win a mandate in May 2004.

This is to presume that election will take place. That the plans of Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. and his House allies to postpone the election, amend the Constitution and effect a shift to the parliamentary system will miscarry, and that Mrs. Arroyo herself will not be persuaded to support that option.

The opposition has rejected the postponement of the 2004 election. Its leaders feel that they’re ahead, and that the Arroyo administration will end up in the dustbin of history in 2004, the victim of its own failures, inconsistencies, bad policies and Mrs. Arroyo’s own abrasive persona.

But that is not as critical as the possibility that postponing the election will ignite mass protests and awaken military and police visions of seizing power for themselves. The resulting destabilization could lead to a military coup—or, what’s even worse as far as the political and economic elite are concerned, to a leftist takeover on the crest of a popular uprising.

If only for these considerations the elections are likely to go on. And yet every sign suggests that Mrs. Arroyo will have to claw her way up from her present rating lows between now and 2004 if she’s to even perform creditably at the polls in 2004. Negative approval ratings in fact seem more than likely as the old year ends and the new one begins with no relief in sight for a scandal-rived administration.

From 24 percent in January 2001 to 18 percent in November 2002, Mrs. Arroyo’s approval ratings slipped to six this month. The survey group Pulse Asia has attributed the slip to public anxiety over terrorism, but it is more likely due to the continuing scandals that have rocked the Arroyo administration.

These scandals—stoked to the full by the opposition and inevitably targeting her husband, the weakest link, Mike Arroyo—are the high-profile, often dramatic, focuses of public attention. They’re unlikely to go the way of the old year.

The year 2002 is indeed ending with a still unresolved major scandal—that of the supposed donation of P8 million (or is it P18 million?) by Rep. Mark Jimenez to a foundation that Jimenez’s ally Rep. Willie Villarama has linked to Mr. Arroyo.

Malaca

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