MANILA, Philippines (ViaNews) – In what appears to be a dramatic political resurrection, former Philippine president turned congresswoman Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has been sworn in as the newest House Speaker on July 23, 2018, stealing the thunder from no less than Philippine president Rodrigo Roa Duterte whose annual public speech on the country’s affairs was delayed by nearly an hour due to the brouhaha in the change in House leadership.
Her rise to power comes at a time when Philippine legislators are being proposed to convene and amend the present Constitution, as part of President Duterte’s centerpiece program to shift to a federal form of government. Today, she is seen going around provinces, which she claimed to be part of her duties as Speaker of the House.
Critics said otherwise, adding that it may possibly be a ploy to soon become the country’s very first prime minister, should the proposed move to shift to a federal form of government pushes through – a not so farfetched possibility considering how hard she clung to power in all her nine turbulent years as president, despite being rocked by one controversy after the other.
Arroyo was sworn in as president after the toppling of former President Joseph Estrada in 2001 and later ran and won in the controversial 2004 elections, where her phone call to a ranking elections officers to ask on how she is faring was wiretapped and later revealed to the public. Questions on her legitimacy as president have been put on question ever since.
But that was neither the beginning or end for scandals and controversies that occurred under her watch.
Millions worth of controversial venal and shady government contracts such as the infamous P329-million- or about $6.2-million-contract for a nationwide broadband internet deal were exposed. Other onerous contracts were: North Rail Project, Mt. Diwalwal Project, and the Fertilizer Scam, among others. Those behind these sham deals were never held accountable.
Under her administration, Arroyo, too, launched one of the bloodiest counterinsurgency programs in the Philippines, which did not discriminate between legal activists and underground armed revolutionary fighters. This has resulted in gross human rights violations such as extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. Human rights group Karapatan said 1,206 activists were killed under the Arroyo administration while 204 were disappeared.
Currently, Arroyo is still facing charges for the illegal arrest and detention of 43 health workers back in 2010. There is also a pending class suit against her filed by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines over the human rights violations committed against their clergy and members as 18 UCCP members were killed, one disappeared, three ambushed and wounded and four arrested, detained and tortured.
She has also allowed the perpetuation of private armies in many provinces, which only came to light when, on November 23, 2009, 58 were killed, including 32 journalists, in what the public now knows as the “Ampatuan massacre.” The criminal proceedings against the suspects – a member of a local political dynasty and among those who supported her bid as president – have yet to end nearly a decade since the brutal killing.
Still, with then legislators kowtowing to her whims, impeachment charges against Arroyo did not succeed.
Just before the end of her nine-year term, Arroyo, a sitting president, ran as a congresswoman in her hometown in Pampanga, where she obviously won. As early as 2010, there have been rumors that she will run for House Speakership, and that she reportedly has plans to become prime minister should the then moves to amend the Constitution take place.
Arroyo’s alleged plot has been temporarily thwarted as the succeeding administration sent her behind bars over controversies on the funds involving state lottery. However, her ties to President Duterte led to her release.
How she managed to consolidate her former allies and forge new friends along the way are not really incomprehensible to many, considering the political and economic structure in the country. In fact, the president’s very own daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte and daughter of former strongman Ferdinand Marcos, Imee Marcos, presently governor of Ilocos Sur, were supposedly behind the ousting of former House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and the installation of Arroyo.
“By no means do we want Alvarez to stay,” Karapatan deputy secretary general Roneo Clamor said, referring to the ousted House Speaker, adding that, “he is the same corrupt, misogynist and suck-up politician who pathetically believes his strongman facade, copied from Duterte, will be beneficial to his political ambitions. Arroyo, however, is progressively worse and with blood on her hands. This circus is indicative of an inherently flawed, self-serving and crooked system that works only for the wealthy few.”
With the country’s fourth highest government official – an alleged plunderer and human rights violator — having a big hand should the proposed amendment to the Philippine Constitution pushes through, the political circus has just definitely begun.