Outgoing leader faces a rough ride despite winning a Congress seat – Philippines

May 13, 2010

Outgoing leader faces a rough ride despite winning a Congress seat

Alan Robles in Manila
Updated on May 12, 2010

As Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino moves up from Congress’ upper house to the presidency, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will be stepping down and joining Congress’ lower house.
In this election, Arroyo ran for and handily won a congressional seat in her home province. It was the first time in the country’s history that a sitting president had run for a lower position, and there are two popular explanations for her move.

First, a seat in Congress will give her immunity to the cascade of corruption suits her foes have said they will file as soon as she relinquishes the presidency. Arroyo is one of the most reviled presidents the country has had, and her term is linked in the public eye to massive graft scandals.

The second reason is that as a congresswoman, Arroyo can rally her Lakas-CMD party to make her speaker of the house – a powerful position she can use to make a grab for power, possibly through constitutional change.

But this might not be easy for Arroyo to accomplish. Her party is in disarray and might not muster the numbers to get a majority. Several former members of her cabinet who ran for Congress have lost or are losing.

Also, she would be up against a president determined to thwart her. According to Dr Alex Brillantes, dean of the University of the Philippines’ National College of Public Administration and Governance, “Noynoy” would ensure he has his own allies in Congress.

He explained that “traditionally, the president gets the majority in the House. We are just a centralised political administrative system – whoever sits in Malacanang (the presidential palace) controls everything,” Brillantes said. In particular, the president determines who gets “pork” – huge allocations of funds that go to each member of Congress.

What this means is that Arroyo’s allies in Congress could desert her party in droves.

In a press conference yesterday, Senator Aquino said one of his priorities would be to focus on Congress. “I will work extra hard to expand [our] majority of the Liberal Party in the Lower House. I want to talk to the incumbents in order to fast-track our agenda. I’m hoping that when they see our proposals are for the people, they will support them.”

One plank of that agenda, which Aquino hammered out in his presidential campaign, is to bring corrupt officials such as Arroyo to justice.

Brillantes said: “Go by what Senator Aquino has said. There has to be some kind of justice as far as Gloria Arroyo is concerned. He has come to power because of that. People are just so tired of corruption.”

Copyright © 2010 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All right reserved

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