MANILA, January 21, 2004
(STAR) By Marichu Villanueva - Three years in office are not enough for President Arroyo to see through her vision of improved living conditions for ordinary Filipino families.

This is why she wishes to continue the work she has started if she wins a six-year mandate in the May elections.

"Hindi pa ako kuntento sa mga ito. Ito ay downpayment lamang na ginawa sa aking maikling panguluhan at inaasahan ko na basbasin ng Panginoon at ang taong-bayan sa mga susunod na kung kinakailangan pa nating gawin para sa pagbabago sa kapakanan ng pangkaraniwang Pilipino," Mrs. Arroyo said yesterday as she marked the third anniversary of the 2001 popular uprising that catapulted her to power.

Mrs. Arroyo, a 56-year-old economist, used the occasion to trumpet the achievements of her administration in what resembled another campaign speech for the May 10 presidential elections.

"EDSA II happened because we were all searching for change," she said. "During my brief stint as president, I used my experience and friendship with other countries to bring investments and create three million jobs — instead of one million only that were created before I became president."

While leftist opponents marched against her, Mrs. Arroyo, joined by former President Fidel Ramos, key Cabinet members and nuns and priests, attended a Catholic Mass and a flag-raising ceremony shortly after dawn at historic EDSA Shrine in Pasig City.

The site was where thousands converged for several days in January 2001 and forced corruption-tainted President Joseph Estrada out of office.

As the nation commemorated "EDSA II," some Filipinos wondered, however, whether the idealism of the massive street protests has been betrayed.

Only a small group of supporters were at the shrine to show their support for Mrs. Arroyo, who is running in May against movie star Fernando Poe Jr., a close friend of Estrada.

Estrada, a former movie star who became president in 1998 on a wave of popular support, is on trial for plunder and other corruption charges.

Malacañang said the EDSA anniversary was commemorated early in the morning to allow her to devote the rest of the day to a visit by Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

The anniversary has been overshadowed by the runup to the elections in which Mrs. Arroyo will be going up against opposition frontrunner Poe.

The May 10 elections are widely seen as a proxy battle between Mrs. Arroyo and Estrada.

Some observers say the elections will be a "referendum" on three years of the Arroyo administration.

Estrada, elected in 1998 in an unprecedented landslide victory, was forced to step down on Jan. 20, 2001, leaving Malacañang through the back door to avoid massive anti-corruption protests over allegations that he ran an illegal gambling protection racket, misused public funds and profited from insider trading.

A day earlier, top military and police officials and some Cabinet members withdrew support for him.

Even as Estrada was packing, Mrs. Arroyo was sworn in to succeed him by Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide.

Estrada, now on trial for economic plunder, a capital offense, still insists he was illegally ousted. He never signed a resignation letter.

Last Monday, he told reporters: "I’m now reading the Bible. Maybe now, I have forgiven those who did me wrong... EDSA II hopefully won’t be repeated again. It downgraded Filipinos because of the perpetuation of this power-grab and unconstitutionality."

Four months later the same year, thousands of Estrada’s supporters from among the nation’s poor tried to break into Malacañang and reinstate him in power but were beaten back by security forces.

Critics, including former Arroyo allies, accused Mrs. Arroyo of betraying the ideals of the uprising. Last year, her husband was accused by Sen. Panfilo Lacson, an opposition lawmaker who is now eyeing the presidency in May, of laundering over P200 million in local dummy bank accounts.

An umbrella group of churches said the 2001 uprising was a chance for Mrs. Arroyo "to prove her sincerity" but she "wasted" her chance.

"The record shows that the people have taken the blows of such governance because suffering has been their lot under the present dispensation. Indeed it has failed them," the National Council of Churches in the Philippines said in a statement to the press.

Under the Arroyo administration prices continued to rise, the nation’s debt continued to grow, thousands of Filipinos still seek greener pastures in other countries, and there was an "all-consuming culture of bureaucratic corruption in high places while the people wallow in poverty and in want," the group said.

"President Arroyo lies about sacrificing her personal interests, her shameless compromises on corruption and reconciliation with the country’s biggest thieves, not to mention her gross failure to deliver the promised jobs and better lives for the poor, will certainly cause her defeat in the upcoming elections," the Promotion of Church Peoples Response said in a press statement.

About 2,000 protesters from various leftist groups staged rallies to denounce Mrs. Arroyo for allegedly betraying the ideals of the uprising.

Teodoro Casiño, head of the left-wing group Bayan that in 2001 fielded thousands of demonstrators calling for Estrada’s ouster, said "what happened was that old politics triumphed again. Our fight against graft was forgotten. It’s the same system, only the faces have changed."

"There’s still a lot to be done," Casiño said. "It didn’t end with Estrada’s downfall. Those who seized power at EDSA II forgot the ideals. It’s up to the people to remind them." — With reports from Christina Mendez, AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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