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Philippines: Turning the Corner?

Updated On: Aug 29, 2006

The Philippines President Arroyo’s position seems to be more secured now than anytime since 2004.

She has survived two impeachment attempts, several coups and people’s power attempts. The economic figures also appeared to be showing signs of improvement.  The Arroyo administration finally seems to have turned the corner.

The first indication of Arroyo’s rising political strength was the failure of the second campaign to impeach her. Arroyo survived the vote 173-32 last Thursday (24 August 2006). This came after 19 hours of deliberation in the House. Although the Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. suggests that he will open another impeachment case next year, he is not likely to succeed unless he is able to find new dramatic evidence against Arroyo. 

Arroyo’s attempt to change the constitutional structure of the Philippines from a Presidential-style to a parliamentary-style of government is also gaining momentum. The Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP), Sigaw ng Bayan (an NGO campaigning for a change of government to a parliamentary system) and various professional and business associations have filed a petition with the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) urging for a referendum on the shift from presidential system to a unicameral parliamentary style government. The petition specifically stated, “We are calling [for] a plebiscite to be held no earlier than 60 days to no later than 90 days….. to allow the Filippino people to express their sovereign will on the proposition.” 

It is unknown as to what the COMELEC’s next course of action will be. The Philippines Supreme Court had in 1997 ruled that a people’s initiative required an enabling law which meant that the COMELEC could possibly decline the petition. On the other hand, the COMELEC would be hard-pressed to ignore the 9 million signatures of which 6.3 million have been verified. The verified signatures represent 14.5% of the total 33 million registered voters. Ultimately, this issue is likely to be decided by the Supreme Court. 

Opponents to the charter change fear that this was another attempt of Arroyo to extend her stay in power beyond 2010. Arroyo’s term of office is till 2010. However, it is not clear if she would seek power in the new parliamentary system. The Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye remarked ambiguously, “She [Arroyo] will serve out her term till 2010, for which she was duly elected.” 

The key to Arroyo’s political survival to 2010 (or beyond) is her ability to generate economic growth and development. On this issue, there seems to be some ground for optimism. Arroyo said that the economy is set to grow by 6% this year, up from 5% last year. The budget is likely to be balanced by 2008 instead of 2010 as previously targeted. In its latest economic report on Asia, Goldman Sachs notes that political stability is no longer a cause for concern in the Philippines. Goldman Sachs also praised Arroyo’s economic reforms, “The President is very focused on fast-tracking at least P150 billion of the infrastructure plan- and her record of execution has been better than her neighbours in the last few years. Even partial execution of this plan would surprise current expectations.” Nonetheless, Arroyo was probably exaggerating when she declared that, “We’ll join the ranks of first world nations [by 2020].” Like Arroyo, the Philippines economy might have turned the corner but the road ahead is still long.

Sources:

‘GMA will Finish Her Term’ (Manila Standard, 28 August 2006)

Arroyo Targets Goals for Philippines’ First World Status Bid, (AsiaPulse, 28 August 2006)

COMELEC Says SC Injunction Vs Initiative Stands (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 27 August 2006)

Impeachment Raps Same Time Next Year (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 26 August 2006)

Focus on Doing ‘Policy, Not Politics’ (The Straits Times, 26 August 2006)

Economic Reforms Give Arroyo Vital Boost (The Straits Times, 26 August 2006)

Time for the Nation to Move On (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 26 August 2006)

Arroyo Allies Crush Impeachment Bid, Clearing Way for Reforms (South China Morning Post, 25 August 2006)