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Philippine President Vows to Stay in Power


Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was swept to power in 2001 after a popular movement ousted her predecessor, vowing to end corruption and bring economic stability. But her time in office has been plagued with charges of graft and vote rigging. She survived a 2003 mutiny and an impeachment attempt last September. Friday the 58-year-old leader declared a state of emergency, claiming rogue elements in the armed forces were plotting to bring her down.

In an ironic twist, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared the state of emergency on the day the country was set to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the four-day "people power" revolt that toppled the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Mrs. Arroyo says during the past months her political opponents have conspired with extremists on both the right and the left to bring down the elected government. She warns those who threaten "treason" will feel the full weight of the law.

Mrs. Arroyo, a former economist who attended Georgetown University in Washington, has vowed to stay in office until her term ends in 2010.

But Sheila Coronel, author and expert on politics in the Philippines says the state of emergency will further hurt her already unpopular presidency.

"People here have a very visceral reaction to anything that smacks of martial law, or of dictatorship. And today, of all days, to do that," Coronel said. "She issues a proclamation in the same way that Marcos issued a proclamation. It's read out on television in the same way Marcos's was read out. There are just too many parallels. She's not popular to begin with."

Mrs. Arroyo, the daughter of the popular late president Diosdado Macapagal, won a landslide victory in 1998 to become vice president.

Mrs. Arroyo's problems began as soon as she became president in 2000, when supporters of the ousted Joseph Estrada stormed the presidential palace demanding she resign.

Mrs. Arroyo survived but then had to put down a mutiny by around 300 soldiers who seized a Manila hotel in 2003 in an attempt to topple her.

Mrs. Arroyo's first term was also plagued by allegations of corruption and a failure to ensure economic stability.

"She's basically not a reformer, and, I think, the first year… it was a very lackluster presidency marred by the same charges of corruption and patronage that hounded Estrada…. What made it worse was the allegations of cheating in the 2004 elections," Coronel said.

Elected to office in 2004 after finishing Estrada's term, Mrs. Arroyo faced calls of cheating almost immediately. Her popularity plummeted.

Then, a year later, a recording surfaced of a phone call she had allegedly made to an election commissioner during the presidential polls. Mrs. Arroyo admitted calling the official, but denied attempting to influence the vote.

The allegations led to a failed impeachment attempt in September by her opponents in the lower house of Congress.

Sheila Coronel says although Mrs. Arroyo is only barely holding on to power, it is unlikely she will resign willingly.

"She feels very besieged; she's always been a very insecure president," Coronel said. "She knows that she's not popular; she knows that the military is very restive, she's used every means to hang on to power and she will continue to do that. She's very determined to survive. She fears that if she shows any sign of weakness she's going to lose hold - her hold on power is very tenuous at this point."

Mrs. Arroyo was quoted Friday as saying, "As commander in chief, I control the situation." But many analysts agree Mrs. Arroyo's decision to impose a state of emergency may backfire, costing her the presidency she has so staunchly defended.

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