By Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star)
Updated December 01, 2009 12:00 AM
MANILA, Philippines - Ending speculation about her political plans, President Arroyo declared yesterday that she is running for Congress representing the second district of Pampanga next year.
Speaking over government-run Radyo ng Bayan, Mrs. Arroyo said she realized after “much contemplation” that “I am not ready to step down completely from public service.”
“As you know, the people of my home district in Pampanga want me to remain in public life,” she said in a mix of Filipino and English. “So after much soul-searching, I have decided to respond affirmatively to their call.”
Mrs. Arroyo said she hopes to be a champion for the poor in Congress and work to uplift the economy.
“To that end, I will file
my candidacy for Congress in order to serve the hardworking people of my home province,” she said.
She vowed to remain focused on her work as President until her final day in office.
Romulo Macalintal, Mrs. Arroyo’s lawyer, and Press Secretary Cerge Remonde were present during the interview.
Macalintal told reporters “some local mayors” authorized by Mrs. Arroyo will file her certificate of candidacy (COC) today.
Mrs. Arroyo is ready for any lawsuit after she files her COC, he added.
Macalintal said it was about a month ago that Mrs. Arroyo started contemplating about running for Congress.
“About a month ago, that was talked about, she consulted her family, some supporters in Pampanga,” he said.
“She thought she was still very young and can still serve. That’s the judgment call of the President.”
He was not aware of any dissent from Mrs. Arroyo’s family on her decision, Macalintal said.
Mrs. Arroyo said she studied several options before deciding on continuing to be in politics.
“While I’m very much looking forward to stepping down at the end of my term, I have been mulling different ways to stay involved,” she said.
“I looked at going back to teaching. I have also examined working with non-profit organizations on issues ranging from the environment to women’s issues.
“I thought of many opportunities. One day I hope to pursue them… work for causes near and dear to me, like the fight against climate change, improvement of education and the cause of women.”
Mrs. Arroyo dismissed allegations that she wants to be a member of the House of Representatives to obtain immunity from the torrent of lawsuits to be filed by her political enemies after she steps down from the presidency.
“The only congressional immunity is from libel suits, from utterances made in a congressional session—that’s not what I’m after,” she said.
“This move reflects my ongoing commitment to public service. I have given careful consideration to a number of options that I could pursue upon leaving office.
“But I have come to the conclusion that I can best serve the nation from a seat in Congress should I be elected.”
Mrs. Arroyo said she is determined to champion the poor, fight for a stronger economy, and ensure that health, education and jobs are within reach of all Kapampangans.
Once elected to Congress, she would get a chance to continue her advocacies “closer to the people,” she added.
Mrs. Arroyo said she will remain “firmly in control of our national government until the last day I am in office,” while campaigning for a seat in the House of Representatives.
“As President, my first commitment is to the nation we all love,” she said.
“My bid for Congress will be only spirited but secondary to my duty as President. I will devote very little time for my campaign for Congress.
“We have come too far and too much is at stake for me to waver in these last few months on my commitment to the people of the nation. I will keep a steady hand on the tiller of the ship of state.”
Mrs. Arroyo said she would continue to pour resources to the Comelec to ensure free, fair and open elections next year.
“And then I will work cooperatively with the incoming administration so they can hit the ground running,” she said.
Comelec: GMA qualified to run
Mrs. Arroyo is qualified to seek any elective position except the presidency, the Comelec said yesterday.
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said Mrs. Arroyo does not even have to resign the presidency after she files her COC.
“There’s no legal impediment to the President seeking elective office other than the presidency once again.
“The law is very clear – elective officials are allowed to return to the posts they occupied after the conclusion of the electoral process if they lost.
“So they are not deemed to have lost their positions simply by virtue of filing their COC.”
However, Jimenez said the Comelec will accept petitions questioning the legality of Mrs. Arroyo’s running for Congress.
“It’s a matter of law,” he said.
“I mean if anyone can provide a different interpretation of the law, then I guess that’s what filing a suit is for.”
Erap: GMA must step down
Former President Joseph Estrada said yesterday Mrs. Arroyo must step down after she files her COC for Congress today.
Speaking over radio, Estrada, United Opposition standard-bearer, said Mrs. Arroyo could use government resources in her campaign to seek a seat in the House of Representatives.
“She should step down because she will use government resources like she did in 2004,” he said.
Mrs. Arroyo is likely to repeat the alleged massive cheating in the 2004 presidential elections in which action star Fernando Poe Jr. lost, he added.
Estrada said Mrs. Arroyo will be demeaning the presidency if she runs for a lower post.
“In my opinion, it is not right for any president who had just finished her term to run for any position, especially one lower than the presidency,” he said.
However, it is the right of any president who had completed a six-year term to run for any position, Estrada said.
As to Mrs. Arroyo’s motive in seeking a congressional seat, he refused to comment.
Estrada said if he becomes president again, he will leave it to the courts to decide whether to charge Mrs. Arroyo after her term ends next year.
“In my opinion, the President must not intervene in that,” he said. “We have the courts. We must leave it to the people.”
Margaux Salcedo, Estrada’s spokesperson, said Mrs. Arroyo’s congressional bid is a brazen attempt to stay in power.
“If this congressional candidacy was out of a desire to serve the people, it would be admirable,” she said.
“But it is a brazen attempt to stay in power forever. This should be considered as a warning that the scheming by this regime will not end with this president’s term in 2010.”
‘Why not the Senate?’
Former ambassador Ernesto Maceda, UNO spokesman, said yesterday Mrs. Arroyo should seek a Senate seat if she is sincere in continuously serving the Filipino people.
“To me, it is a simple lead for political power,” he said.
“Gloria is a very unusual politician. She will be the first president who had finished her term to run for Congress, a position lower than the presidency.”
Maceda said Mrs. Arroyo is wrong in thinking that she could become speaker after she wins as representative of Pampanga in Congress.
“If President Estrada wins, there is Congressmen (Arnulfo) Fuentebella and Rufus Rodirguez who can logically get the speakership,” he said.
“So, how can she be Speaker. She will never become Speaker.”
Maceda said Mrs. Arroyo can instead do other things like former President Fidel Ramos, such as writing and helping the people.
“The least attractive position is to become a congressman,” he said.
Binay said Mrs. Arroyo’s real agenda is to amend the Constitution and shift to a parliamentary form of government.
“The real agenda is to amend the Constitution, shift to a parliamentary form of government and snatch power from whoever is elected president in 2010 by becoming the prime minister and head of government,” he said.
“Mrs. Arroyo intends to nullify the result of the 2010 presidential election, and once again, she will subvert the will of the people in her self-serving pursuit of power.”
Binay said the choice of the few will replace the voice of over 45 million Filipinos after Mrs. Arroyo wins a seat in Congress.
“The next president will always be under threat of being unseated by a Congress led by Mrs. Arroyo,” he said.
‘So obsessed with power’
Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño said yesterday he has never seen a leader so obsessed with power as Mrs. Arroyo.
“After nine years of occupying the highest office of the land, she would still aspire for a lower position with her two sons and two in-laws,” he said.
“She is drunk with power and can’t get enough. I think she needs professional help.”
Mrs. Arroyo’s two sons, Mikey and Dato, are representatives of Pampanga and Camarines Sur in Congress.
So are her two in-laws – Iggy and Ma. Lourdes Arroyo, who are representing Negros Occidental and party-list Kasangga. —With Sheila Crisostomo, Jose Rodel Clapano, Delon Porcalla, Ding Cervantes