MANILA, August 8, 2003 (STAR) President Arroyo would be the strongest candidate in next year’s presidential elections, former President Fidel Ramos said yesterday.

Ramos said Mrs. Arroyo’s peaceful resolution of the Makati City mutiny gave her "the moral high ground" necessary to run for another term.

"I have been one of those (who) have been pushing her to go for it in the year 2004," Ramos said. "I myself feel that she is the strongest candidate from our party and from the coalition for president."

Mrs. Arroyo has said she will not run, but Ramos said, "in the national interest she can change her mind so that the country will continue to have good leadership."

Ramos said Mrs. Arroyo, his partymate in the Lakas coalition, "does not have to go back to square one in the learning curve to learn the business of being president."

Mrs. Arroyo, an economist, was elected vice president in the 1998 elections won by movie actor Joseph Estrada. But midway into his term, Estrada was ousted in a military-backed popular uprising in January 2001, pushing Mrs. Arroyo to serve as president until 2004.

As she is serving Estrada’s remaining term, Mrs. Arroyo can run for a full six-year term next year.

Ramos, a former constabulary chief and defense secretary who was president from 1992 to 1998, praised Mrs. Arroyo for her handling of an alleged coup attempt last month. On July 27, more than 300 troops seized Oakwood Premier Ayala Center condotel in Makati’s financial district and rigged the area with bombs, then demanded that Mrs. Arroyo step down. A 22-hour standoff ended without bloodshed.

Ramos said Mrs. Arroyo was also to be commended for setting up "two fact-finding commissions to look into the gripes of the soldiers and the other one also to look into the bigger problem of military adventurism."

"She now has gained the moral high ground so she can push for her candidacy," he said.

The two leaders have also moved to patch up a spat linked to the military uprising.

Ramos reacted strongly on Thursday after Mrs. Arroyo appeared to blame him for the spate of military rebellions that have dogged the country since the late 1980s.

"The President talked with the former president this morning," Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye told reporters.

"It was a talk between friends and between allies," he said. "We believe the matter has been settled."

Mrs. Arroyo said in a speech to Southeast Asian finance ministers on Wednesday, 10 days after quelling the mutiny, that "the resurgence of mutinies can be traced in part to a reluctance to enforce justice against military adventurism."

In the 1980s Ramos, helped foil seven military rebellions against then President Corazon Aquino that left hundreds of people, mostly civilians, dead.

In 1995, three years after he was elected president, Ramos signed a peace settlement with military rebels that granted the 1980s mutineers blanket amnesty.

Ramos said Thursday that prosecution was among the options considered by Aquino against the coup leaders then, but the government decided the need to establish peace and unity was more important as Manila opened peace talks with communist as well as Muslim separatist rebels.

Ramos, who put the Philippines back on the map of foreign investors by solving an electricity crisis and liberalizing key economic sectors, also said a new term for Mrs. Arroyo was important for the sake of continuity.

He urged Mrs. Arroyo to reform the government into a parliamentary system to allow presidents to be voted out of office as a way to discourage coups.

The United States-style presidential system, which has two houses of Congress, "has not worked for us and neither has it worked for all the other replicas" around the world, Ramos said.

Under the current system, presidents are elected for a fixed six-year term. With this fixed mandate, an elected president embroiled in corruption, for example, can only be removed through a civilian uprising or by the Armed Forces.

In a parliamentary system, it would be easier to change corrupt or incompetent leaders by a no-confidence vote without resorting to mass action.

Meanwhile, a two-part survey conducted by the survey firm Vox Populi found that the alleged coup attempt and how the President handled it had a positive effect on Mrs. Arroyo’s rating.

The first part of the survey, taken July 26, showed that Mrs. Arroyo was given passing marks by 55 percent of respondents. The second part of the survey, conducted one day after the mutiny, some 58 percent of Metro Manila residents said the President is doing very well at her job.

The survey was partly funded by four senatorial aspirants — three from the opposition and one from an administration party — and involved 1,291 respondents from all the cities and municipalities in Metro Manila. It has an associated error margin of 1.96 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.

The survey also found that 66 percent of respondents believe that the junior military officers should not have staged the mutiny. The main reason behind the respondents’ disapproval is that the mutiny would add to the suffering of the people.

"Investors and tourists will take long in coming and the national economy will suffer more," Vox Populi said in a statement.

Other respondents said that the mutiny has caused us to be the laughingstock of other countries, "as they brand our country a veritable banana republic of never-ending (coup d’etats) and street demonstrations."

Some 29 percent of respondents approved of the mutiny, believing that there was no other way to let people know of the corruption within the ranks of military and police.

"These interviewees believe that the rebelling officers could not have presented their problems before their generals, as some of these generals are themselves the problem or are colleagues and padrinos of the problem generals," the survey firm said.

These respondents also believe that the mutinous officers should have drawn public attention to their complaints in ways other than by threatening to inflict violence.

Sixty-seven percent of the respondents dismissed the mutinous officers’ demand for the President to step down, but held Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes, Philippine National Police chief Director General Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. and Intelligence Services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Brig. Gen. Victor Corpus accountable, at least on command responsibility, for the environment that engendered the failed mutiny.

Some 54 percent of Metro Manila residents believe that ambitious politicians "using pious and patriotic slogans to hide their true intentions" masterminded the alleged coup attempt. Another 26 percent of the respondents believe the soldiers staged the military uprising on their own, while 20 percent were undecided. — AP, AFP, Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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