Accessibility links

Philippine President Likely to Weather Political Crisis, Say Experts


As President Gloria Arroyo considers lifting emergency rule in the Philippines following last week's reported coup attempt, questions have been raised about her political future. Mrs. Arroyo has so far survived all challenges to her legitimacy to rule and analysts predict that she will continue - but the conflict is leaving the nation divided and her government paralyzed. VOA's Heda Bayron in our Asia News Center in Hong Kong examines where Mrs. Arroyo's presidency is headed.

From the very start of her presidency, the question of legitimacy has hounded Gloria Arroyo. Assuming power in 2001 after her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, was ousted by popular protests backed by the military, Mrs. Arroyo has been accused of cheating her way into office. The same accusations surfaced in 2004, after she was elected to a six-year term by a narrow margin.

She has also been accused of election fraud and corruption. Yet despite a military mutiny in 2003, and a congressional impeachment and mass cabinet resignations last year, the diminutive Mrs. Arroyo has successfully defied attempts to force her to step down.

Last week, she took the drastic step of declaring a state of emergency, to protect her presidency against what she said was a conspiracy among elements of the armed forces, the opposition and the communist movement to drive her illegally from office.

She ordered several military officers and politicians arrested and curtailed the right to protest - even threatening to close down media outlets that defied her orders.

Political analysts say that with or without special powers, Mrs. Arroyo's troubles will not go away. For one thing, they say, as long as there is a disgruntled military and an adventurous opposition, the threat remains.

"It will be a constant, chronic problem," says Renato de Castro, a politics professor at De La Salle University in Manila. "The next question of course, is, would the next attempt succeed or not?"

This is not the first time a perceived threat to her presidency has led Mrs. Arroyo to take decisive action. In 2001, she imposed a brief state of rebellion - which also allowed for detention without charge - to stop riots outside the presidential palace. She did this again during the military mutiny of 2003.

The opposition has denounced the state of emergency as illegal and called for its suspension. The United States and international rights groups have also called on Mrs. Arroyo to lift the declaration. She says she will decide by Saturday whether or not to do so.

The Philippines has experienced a number of coup attempts - all unsuccessful - since 1986, when a military rebellion and mass protests ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Junior military officers often complain of low pay and demoralizing corruption among their commanding officers. The mutiny by a group of young officers in 2003 rattled Mrs. Arroyo and prompted her to promise to reform the armed forces. But political analysts say grievances continue to simmer - encouraged by opposition politicians who see the military as vehicle for overthrowing her.

The opposition has presented no clear picture of what ousting her would achieve, however. De Castro says should another attempt succeed, it would only breed further political turmoil.

"You'll have a banana republic. Undermine the political institutions and every now and then you would have a government that would be ousted," he says.

But political analysts generally agree Mrs. Arroyo is likely to weather this latest crisis.

Patricio Abinales, an expert on Philippine politics at Kyoto University in Japan, says Mrs. Arroyo's opponents have underestimated her ability to hang on - even in the face of low public support. He says this is partly thanks to what he calls an "unimaginative" opposition.

"One really weird thing about coups and protests in the Philippines is the constant repetition… They can't think of another way. The other thing is that everybody talks about it. So basically you don't have to be smart to see these guys are going to do it," Abinales says.

Belinda Aquino of the University of Hawaii, another Philippines expert, says the opposition is failing to attract public support - a key element in the two previous ousters of Philippine presidents - because it has not provided a credible alternative to Mrs. Arroyo.

Her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, is in detention, and the man she defeated in 2004, Fernando Poe Junior, died not long after the election. Her vice president, Noli de Castro, is a former broadcaster with little experience in national politics. Professor Aquino sees his support base as limited.

"The alternative would have been Noli de Castro - the vice president. He is nowhere near the kind of position that Arroyo was as a successor of Estrada," Aquino says. "You see, that's the kind of calculation on the part of the people: if it's just Noli de Castro, is it worth it?"

Patricio Abinales of Kyoto University says Mrs. Arroyo counts on the continued support of the provinces - where she received the most votes in the last election. There have been few protests against her there.

"Arroyo is confident that she has the support of the provincial politicians," he says. "As long as the opposition is mainly urban, middle class, Manila-based, I think she's pretty confident that she would last her term."

Political analysts say constant political crises have made Filipinos indifferent to the political maneuverings of the ruling elite, who have failed to address prevalent poverty.

While Mrs. Arroyo may succeed in keeping herself in power for four more years, analysts say she needs to heal a divided nation. In the past, following similar destabilization attempts, she has worked to compromise with her opponents, by doling out government funds and enacting some reforms. So far, she has made no proposals on how to move forward this time.

XS
SM
MD
LG