Prime Minister Gloria Arroyo in the future Federal Republic of the Philippines?

Wednesday July 25, 2018 ()

The election of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as the first female speaker of the House of Representatives may be viewed as either a turning point or a regression in Philippine history. But it comes at a crucial period in which the political class decides the country's future course.

That the House, historically one of the most unpopular institutions of government, needed a leadership change was not in question.

No one was more unfit for the speakership than Pantaleon "Bebot" Alvarez, a political non-entity before he rode on the coattails of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Gloria Arroyo
(Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo)

Alvarez debased his office and shocked the public with scandals that put tabloid gossip to shame, and cowed his colleagues with his bare-knuckle, gangster-style politics.

Arroyo, who represents the first district of Pampanga, is of course not the most desirable replacement for Alvarez. But as a former bureaucrat at the Department of Trade and Industry, Cabinet secretary, senator, vice president and president, she is the House's most experienced politician, capable of steering the chamber toward watershed changes expected to occur very soon.

Apart from Arroyo, no one was likely able to quickly assemble a majority coalition independently of Malacañang, which usually gives the imprimatur on the choice of House speaker.

The reason: this is a pro-Arroyo coalition as much as it is a pro-Duterte one. Arroyo worked with the same political families to achieve her legislative agenda as president from 2001 to 2010, notably the fiscal stimulus that saved the Philippine economy from ruin during the global debt crisis. This is also the same circle that ensured the stability of Arroyo's rule by quashing successive impeachment attempts against her.

Arroyo, therefore, is able to operate her own power center within the Duterte administration, and is, thus, the only politician with enough gravitas to marshal political support for the President's bid to overhaul the antiquated Constitution and shift to a federal system of government.

The blitzkrieg fashion in which Arroyo was installed speaker at the resumption of the 17th Congress also showed her strong motivation to take on the job.

Arroyo's ruthlessness was on display when she and her allies made sure Alvarez won't last the day as speaker by staging two sessions, two rounds of voting and two oath-takings, never mind that the House was unable to ratify the Bangsamoro Organic Law, an important piece of legislation, or that the power struggle overshadowed the important event of the day – the President's State of the Nation Address.

No doubt Arroyo has one eye on overseeing the country's transition to a federal republic, and another on rehabilitating her image and legacy, having suffered four years in detention over corruption charges.

Arroyo may have been unable to occupy the speaker's chair during the SONA, but her shot at the prime minister's post in a future Federal Republic of the Philippines just became very real.

Arroyo is only the second Philippine president, after Jose P. Laurel, to run for a lower public office, as member of the House of Representatives, upon relinquishing the presidency.

Like Laurel, who struggled with accusations of Japanese collaboration after his Palace tenure, Arroyo clearly has an unfinished business with history. The nation waits with bated breath what she does with her rare gift of a second chance at the helm of political power.


  • Arroyo, Asia's Iron Lady, rises again, Editorial, July 25, 2018, The Manila Times

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