Manila, July 22, 2003 By Paolo Romero (Star) President Arroyo’s public approval ratings might be dragged down by the embarrassment caused by the escape of Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi and make it difficult for her supporters to convince her to seek a full term, a pro-administration lawmaker said yesterday.

Al-Ghozi’s escape coincided with the visit of Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who had talks with Mrs. Arroyo on the regional terrorism threat and gave Manila five million Australian dollars to help fund the Philippines’ anti-terrorism efforts.

Davao City Rep. Prospero Nograles said the escape put the Arroyo administration at the center of criticism here and abroad.

Hailed by US President George W. Bush during a White House state visit in May as an important ally in the war against terrorism, Mrs. Arroyo has seen her stock fall with key allies the United States and Australia following Al-Ghozi’s escape.

"It would definitely have an impact on the President’s public approval rating in the next survey," said Nograles, Mindanao party whip of the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats.

Mrs. Arroyo’s approval rating soared to a positive 14 percent from a negative 14 percent in recent survey conducted by independent pollster Social Weather Stations.

In a move that stunned the nation on Dec. 30, Mrs. Arroyo announced that she was withdrawing from the May elections so she could concentrate on revitalizing the poverty-stricken economy.

Many believe Mrs. Arroyo’s decision to withdraw was due to her sagging popularity.

However, now that her opinion poll ratings have gone up, many expect Mrs. Arroyo to seek a full six-year term.

Mrs. Arroyo, then the vice president, replaced Joseph Estrada when he was toppled 31 months into his term by a military-backed popular uprising in January 2001.

Despite her insistence that she would not change her mind, many believe Mrs. Arroyo would reconsider her decision. Her chief of staff Rigoberto Tiglao had previously said she might run if the "national interest" called for it.

Al-Ghozi — along with Abu Sayyaf members Abdul Edris and Merang Abante — walked out of a supposedly a high-security prison at Camp Crame last July 14.

Mrs. Arroyo formed an independent, fact-finding body to determine how the jailed Indonesian Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist escaped. It is headed by former justice secretary Sedfrey Ordoñez with Justice Secretary Simeon Datumanong and business leader Miguel Varela as members.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved