President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s future plans are the current topic of the day in Philippine politics. Some observers–and their number is growing–now say, as this column has been saying since February, that she will run in 2004 despite her December 2002 announcement that she won’t
The current speculation is based on both the results of her visit to the United States and on how she was received in Washington. In this hard-nosed view, the support for her and her policies US President George W. Bush displayed has earned her enough points to boost her approval ratings for the rest of the year and perhaps even beyond.
What’s even more important is that US support can and has been known to go beyond words, into the material realms of military and economic aid, and even covert political support. During elections in this country, US support magically morphs into votes. And beyond George W. Bush’s rhetoric, the promises of US aid, focused especially on the military campaign in Mindanao and its reconstruction ?a Iraq, should dispel any doubts as to who’s the US’ current fair-haired girl in the Philippines.
But although provoked by her US visit and Bush?s approval, speculation that Mrs. Arroyo might still run in 2004 despite her announcement last December that she won?t has never quite died down.
It?s not just because her partisans in the Office of the President, the Presidential Management Staff, the Philippine Information Agency, as well as in the House of Representatives, are known to have never quite given up on an Arroyo candidacy in 2004. It is also because Mrs. Arroyo herself has all this time acted like a traditional politician with a still moist eye on the presidency rather than the stateswoman she pledged she would henceforth be last December.
Mrs. Arroyo?s year began with the usual, predictable announcement that she would concentrate on finding solutions to the country?s economic problems?except that this year it was thought to be sincere and not a mere function of her plans for 2004. That was immediately followed, however, by a number of indications that she was still focused on what was popular at home, as well as on enhancing US support for her government.
These included her visit to Kuwait supposedly to assure Filipino workers in the Middle East that they were safe despite the imminence of a US attack on Iraq; the attack on the MILF in February; and her echoing the US line on attacking Iraq to the point of criticizing the United Nations.
Mrs. Arroyo?s Kuwait visit occurred right at the point when the absentee voting bill was about to pass Congress. That seeming coincidence naturally invited suspicions that she was at least as interested in the millions of overseas Filipino workers? votes that, if delivered, could henceforth decide the outcome of any Philippine election, as she was in the welfare of the OFWs who would be in harm?s way in the event of a US attack on Iraq.
During Mrs. Arroyo?s visit, state-run media made it a point to emphasize how well she was received by the OFWs, making sure she was videotaped and photographed talking to OFW relatives in the Philippines via telephone, and being hugged by tearful Filipino domestics in Kuwait City. That visit was also preceded by the government troops? attack on the MILF camps in Pikit, Cotabato, much like her US visit last week was preceded by an order to seek out the terrorists supposedly among MILF ranks.
But back in Manila last March, Mrs. Arroyo was asked why the Pikit attack was continuing despite the clamor among Church, NGOs, human rights organizations and other groups for a halt to military operations that had so far displaced 40,000 people. In what looked like a candid moment, Mrs. Arroyo told a TV interviewer that she had to do ?what was popular,? no more and no less.
The attack on the MILF camps was of course popular among the majority Christian population whether in Mindanao or elsewhere in the archipelago. But it was most of all popular in the military establishment, which for decades has been demanding a free hand in using purely military means to address the ?Mindanao problem.?
Equally popular among the larger population were her expressions of support for the United States position on Iraq. Because of the OFW factor, however, public opinion was at best divided on support for the war itself, forcing Mrs. Arroyo to either backtrack on support for it, or to continue with what seemed to be an unpopular position. Although Mrs. Arroyo has several times shown that she?s concerned with the popularity of her policies and actions, her choosing to tough it out by even more stridently expressing support for the US attack on Iraq suggested that she regarded US support as more crucial to her and her plans than popular approval.
Mrs. Arroyo?s concern for the public opinion surveys also continued as in the past since 2001. Those surveys that showed a decline in her approval ratings Malaca