Gloria Takes the Reins

Article excerpt

Less than a week after a mass uprising swept her into power, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo stood once again before a sea of jubilant supporters. At a nighttime evangelical rally in downtown Manila, the new president of the Philippines closed her eyes and seemed to fall into a trance as a preacher anointed her forehead. The preacher raised his arms over Arroyo and began to shout out prayers. Thousands of working-class Filipinos, who had converged at the "people power" shrine to see Arroyo, echoed his cries. Days before, people had gathered at the same site and implored the military to topple Joseph Estrada. This crowd-- members of the Jesus Is Lord Fellowship--was appealing to an even higher authority to protect Arroyo's fledgling rule. The believers raised their hands and chanted Arroyo's name. "Lord, send up your thunder, paralyze her foes!" the evangelist boomed. "Confuse the camp of your enemies, and uphold our beloved president."

For the moment, Arroyo is beloved. Practically everyone in the country is united behind her. Last week bankers toasted her with champagne. Generals escorted her to speeches. Professors and labor leaders ate breakfast with her. The stock index surged 30 percent and even the beleaguered peso gained some strength. "We have a chance to renew our values as a people," said Dan Songco, the Manila-based leader of several nongovernmental organizations. The good will may not last very long, however, unless Arroyo proves quickly that she can lead the country. She wasted no time setting a new tone. She began her first day of work before 6 a.m.--a huge contrast to Estrada, who would sometimes not show up at his office until the afternoon, nursing a hangover.

In 1986 Corazon Aquino came to power with the backing of a similarly broad coalition--and her government soon collapsed into bitter factionalism. To be sure, there are very real differences between People Power I and II. Aquino had no government experience. Arroyo is a veteran politician, trained economist and daughter of a former president. Arroyo will need all her skill and political experience in her new job, for she faces formidable challenges--not least improving the country's feeble economy. It's bad enough that the Philippines is impoverished. But now the country is running a large budget deficit, which will make it difficult for the president to throw money at pressing problems. Beyond that, she must tackle the twin peaks of corruption and cronyism. …