By Christian V. Esguerra, Tonette Orejas
Philippine Daily Inquirer, Central Luzon Desk
First Posted 02:02:00 12/01/2009
Filed Under: Inquirer Politics, Eleksyon 2010, Elections, Civil & Public Services
MANILA, Philippines—After keeping her political foes and much of the nation in suspense for weeks and months, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Monday finally laid down her cards: She would leave Malacañang next year—and run for Congress.
Claiming public service was “emblazoned on my DNA (genetic fingerprint),” Ms Arroyo ended speculation about her political plans by declaring she would run as representative of the second congressional district of Pampanga in the May elections.
Her announcement was welcomed by her most ardent supporters but also touched off a storm of attacks from her critics, who accused her of positioning herself to become prime minister if the Constitution were to be amended and the country shifted to a parliamentary system.
Already president for nine years, Ms Arroyo is the second-longest serving Philippine leader after the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled for more than 20 years.
Surveys have rated Ms Arroyo as the most unpopular leader the country has had since Filipinos regained democracy in 1986.
Heeding a clamor
The 62-year-old Arroyo said her decision to run was the product of both her desire to continue serving and heed what she called a “clamor” by her province mates for her to serve them.
“After much contemplation, I realized I’m not ready to step down completely from public service,” she said on the government-run Radyo ng Bayan.
Citing what she said were appeals from her home district in Pampanga for her to stay in government, Ms Arroyo said: “After much soul-searching, I have decided to respond affirmatively to their call.”
“That situation is so hypothetical I won’t even bother to speculate on it,” she curtly replied when asked if she ultimately intended to install herself as prime minister.
She made the remark during the question-and-answer part of the program that sounded like she was reading from a script.
Romulo Macalintal, Ms Arroyo’s election lawyer, said Ms Arroyo would attend Mass in Lubao town Tuesday morning then deliver a message to her constituents in the second district.
Ms Arroyo made it clear she would be “firmly in control of our national government until the last day I am in office [as President].”
“As President, my first commitment is to the nation we all love. My bid for Congress is spirited, but secondary to my duties as President,” she said.
“I am completely confident that I will perform the duties of [the] presidency with the same level of intensity and commitment I have always had. I will remain steadfast and responsible to the nation until my last day in office,” she added in the interview.
In her remaining months in Malacañang, Ms Arroyo promised to “focus on the executive’s duties to help the Comelec perform its role.”
“Then I will work cooperatively with the incoming administration so that they can hit the ground running,” she said.
Not seeking immunity
Ms Arroyo said she would also need only a little time to campaign in her home province, which she had visited this year for nearly 50 times already—more frequently in the weeks leading to her announcement.
She said she was not after the immunity she would get as a member of Congress in the face of threats by her political opponents—should they wrest control of Malacañang in 2010—to send her to jail.
“The only congressional immunity is from libel suit and utterances made in a congressional session—that’s not what I’m after,” she said. “I have come to the conclusion that I can best serve the nation from a seat in Congress should I be elected.”
In breaking one of the biggest stories of her presidency, Ms Arroyo opted for a quick—and seemingly controlled—interview on government radio, rather than face the private media.
Malacañang reporters got her announcement through a replay of the Radyo ng Bayan interview.
Back to teaching?
Ms Arroyo spoke of other options after she steps down in Malacañang.
“I have been thinking of many opportunities and one day, I hope to pursue them. For example, I plan to go back to teaching or work for causes near and dear to me like climate change, improvement of education and the cause of women,” she said.
“These opportunities will remain open in the coming years. But now, the best way to continue to champion the things I love is in Congress.”
Macalintal downplayed the possible adverse impact of Ms Arroyo’s candidacy on administration standard-bearer Gilbert Teodoro Jr.’s own bid for the presidency.
“I’m sure Mr. Teodoro has his own campaign strategy,” he said.
Up to history
Macalintal admitted that Ms Arroyo could still pursue public service without seeking another elective post, but he deferred to the President’s decision.
“History will only judge whether she made a good decision,” he said.
In Pampanga, Auxiliary Bishop Pablo Virgilio David urged legal minds to seek a court ruling on whether Ms Arroyo can run for Congress after serving as President.
“I wish some legal luminaries in the country can file a case in the Supreme Court for them to interpret the spirit of the 1987 Constitution on this issue,” David said.
Pampanga Gov. Eddie Panlilio said Monday was a “day of sadness” because Ms Arroyo had lost her sense of delicadeza (propriety), and deprived other leaders of a chance to serve the district.
Ms Arroyo’s half-sister, former Pampanga Vice Gov. Cielo Macapagal-Salgado, felt sad about the news.
“I’m not happy about it,” Salgado said.
She said she herself had decided not to run for Congress because she wanted other province mates to be given the opportunity to serve the district of her father, the late President Diosdado Macapagal.
In Guagua town, residents Crisanta Santiago and Norma Castro welcomed Ms Arroyo’s decision.
“She has been doing a lot of projects in our district,” Santiago said, without saying what project benefited her. With reports from Leila Salaverria in Manila and Charlene Cayabyab, Inquirer Central Luzon