PHILIPPINES:'People Power' Turns Sour: President Gloria Arroyo Attacks What She Calls a Power Grab by Mobs of Protesters
Weymouth, Lally, Newsweek
As the returns were counted last week in the first elections since she came to power four months ago, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo faced continued unrest and questions about her ability to govern. Arroyo's handling of protesters who stormed her palace on May 1 and her recent arrest of opposition leaders only served to fuel debate about her legitimacy. Sitting in Malacanang Palace--where she lived as a child when her father was president--the 54-year-old Arroyo addressed these and other issues in an interview with NEWSWEEK's Lally Weymouth:
WEYMOUTH: Was it a mistake to have former president [Joseph] Estrada arrested and jailed?
ARROYO: When you do what is right, it can't be a mistake. The court, which is an independent judicial body, ruled he should be arrested. So you have to follow the law. Estrada's arrest precipitated mass actions, culminating in the march on the presidential palace. Some politicians said [the protesters] should march here so that I would [be forced to] resign. They hoped some generals would join.
Were you apprehensive?
I had total faith in our armed forces and also in the moral ascendancy of our government. So I didn't capitulate. But not capitulating does not mean ignoring that people are in such a state of despair that they can be manipulated to join such a protest. Their poverty has to be addressed. The country is divided and needs healing.
People say Estrada is widely admired by the poor and that you represent the elite and middle class. Can you build a bridge to the lower classes?
In my mind, I have been building a bridge. Actually, President Estrada does not come from the lower classes. My father [former president Diosdado Macapagal] came from the lower class. He is the only president who came from the masses. Why do they identify me with the middle class? Because I have my Ph.D., I went to Georgetown University and I'm a president's daughter. I realized [after the May 1 protest] that it is important to let the lower classes know that this government wants to serve them. I prefer to go to them in a very informal way--in my jeans and T shirt--so they can feel at home with me. …