Power ......II... IHT
new leader could do worse than keep an eye on the progress and problems
of her neighbor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The two daughters of former
presidents came to power in roughly similar circumstances. Both need
to prove that they are not beholden to the military and the metropolitan
elites which toppled their predecessors. Both need to show that they
can make good governance the centerpiece of national revival, promote
reform without driving away tainted but needed capital.
Mrs. Arroyo came to power in constitutionally more dubious circumstances
than Megawati Sukarnoputri. She also faced the wrath of a large minority
of the population, notably of the poor, who resented the treatment of
Mr. Estrada and had little faith that this daughter of the elite would
do more than pay lip service to their needs.
So far she has shown a better understanding of the real issues facing
the country than has been recognized by the Makati financial and commercial
sector, which wields inordinate influence over a largely rural and pre-industrial
economy heavily dependent on remittances from émigrés. But Makati determines
the level of the peso and stock market, and those are the yardsticks by
which the country is usually measured.
The peso is almost back to its Estrada crisis low against the dollar despite
central banks' efforts to squeeze speculators and limit dollar access.
Stocks have fallen 20 percent since the euphoria which followed Mr. Estrada's
ouster last January. The plus side of the Arroyo ledger is rather longer
than these numbers suggest. Congressional elections in May gave her control
of the House and a comfortable if not overwhelming position in the Senate.
Even the May 1 riots, which led to declaration of a state of rebellion
and use of the army to keep order, may have had positive results.
The riots were blamed on troublemaking paid for by Estrada supporters.
But it is now recognized that the frustrations of the urban poor were
an important factor. The Philippines has a history of peasants' revolt
but hitherto not of urban unrest. Manila's sansculottes could erupt again.
Mrs. Arroyo has had the sense to take note.
The government's limited resources are to be focused on a stagnant agricultural
sector that is disgorging its unemployed to the towns, and on improving
housing and amenities for the urban poor. The president has made efforts
to address grassroots issues and to listen to the social activist as well
as business members of the People Power II coalition.
Her work schedule is demanding, and by setting targets she has given the
impression that she can shake the bureaucracy out of its indolence. She
may not succeed, but the harder she is seen to try the more likely she
will succeed in her ambition to be re-elected in 2004.
The military has been kept happy by an increased budget, and kept busy
dealing with the Abu Sayyaf. That band of extortionists remains a problem,
but Mrs. Arroyo has made progress in peace talks with the more important
Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Corruption is being addressed more vigorously than most expected. Some
police chiefs linked to the illegal gambling syndicates which financed
Mr. Estrada and other politicians are being dismissed. The new head of
the Bureau of Internal Revenue is engaged in a fierce battle to clean
up an institution which for years has been a major cause of the country's
fiscal problems and consequent abysmal public infrastructure. She has
even submitted her own husband, José Miguel Arroyo, to investigation.
The nexus of smuggling and illegal gambling, police corruption and political
funding is so entrenched, the links between government and business are
so numerous, the fiscal situation is so difficult that Mrs. Arroyo may
well fail to deliver. Elite money continues to leave the country because
of fear of social instability. Filipino Chinese fret at continued insecurity
and kidnappings for ransom, and some see better investment opportunities
The security situation in Muslim areas is no worse now than during most
of the past 25 years, but the gangsters have stolen the headlines away
from a president who has gained stature through hard work and determination
not to be seen as anyone's puppet.
Mrs. Megawati would do well to copy. Can the two women co-opt the forces
of reform while keeping the military on the sidelines, business interests
supportive and traditional money politics at arm's length? It is a tall
TOP OF THE PAGE