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Philippine President Says She Will Not Extend Term

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo says she has no desire to extend her term past next May. Mrs. Arroyo made the comments during her final state of the nation address before the Philippine Congress.

In much of her speech, President Arroyo, an economist, boasted of the Philippines' economic resilience in the global downturn.

"The story of the Philippines in 2008 is that the country weathered a succession of global crises, in fuel, in food, then in finance and the economy in a global recession, never losing focus and with economic fundamentals intact," said Mrs. Arroyo. "The state of our nation is a strong economy."

But it was not Mrs. Arroyo's achievements that brought the crowds out on a rainy Monday afternoon. Security was tight as thousands of people protested in Manila against proposed constitutional changes that, they say, would allow the president to extend her term.

The House of Representatives passed a bill last month that authorizes Congress to amend the Constitution. Her allies want to change the system of government from presidential to parliamentary.

Mrs. Arroyo denied the rumors that she wants to remain in office, and lambasted her critics for creating "self-imagined threats" to democracy.

"I have never expressed the desire to extend myself beyond my term," she said. "Many of those who accuse me of it try to cling like nails to their posts."

Half of the country's 22 senators boycotted her speech in protest to the proposed constitutional changes.

The Philippines is scheduled to hold a presidential election in May 2010. Mrs. Arroyo is constitutionally barred from seeking another term.

Mrs. Arroyo assumed the presidency in January 2001 after street protests led to the collapse of the government of President Joseph Estrada, who was later convicted of plunder. Her election as president in 2004 by a narrow margin was marred by fraud allegations.

In eight years, she battled impeachment attempts and attempts of a military takeover. She has denied allegations of corruption and electoral fraud. But in a recent survey, the president had the lowest approval rating among top government officials in the Philippines.