ARROYO LOOMS AS THE CHOICE OF PHILIPPINE ELITE - ANALYSTS

MANILA,  May 2, 2004
 
(STAR)
(AFP)  Gloria Arroyo is a product of the Philippines' wealthy elite, a straight-talking US-trained economist who has tried to bring a more business-like approach to the presidency.

The petite grandmother of two, a former Georgetown University classmate of ex-US president Bill Clinton, is a free-marketeer who promises to regain the confidence of international investors if elected to a fresh six-year term in the May 10 polls.

Arroyo, 57, is also unashamedly pro-American, inviting US troops into the country to help the fight against Muslim militants in the south and also sending a contingent of Filipino soldiers to boost the US occupation of Iraq.

She inherited the presidency -- and a tattered economy -- from movie-star president Joseph Estrada, who was deposed in 2001 after a military-backed popular uprising.

The daughter of popular former president Diosdado Macapagal, Arroyo had a gilded path to power. She entered politics 1992 as a senator, and in 1998 was elected vice president in a landslide vote. She took the top job when Estrada was forced from power 30 months later.

She has risen to the presidency on the back of her father's old network of political friends, helped by an uncanny resemblance to popular actress Nora Aunor, who rose from poverty to stardom.

The president is married to Jose Miguel Arroyo, who also comes from a wealthy and influential family, and the couple have three children. The husband has not escaped charges of corruption, and has been told to stay in the background during this year's campaign.

Arroyo has a reputation for being strict, and more than once has publicly reprimanded cabinet colleagues. But she has also been trying to keep a lid on her notoriously short fuse and present a gentler side of her character, once boasting to reporters about her healthy sex life.

She is the first sitting president since the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos two decades ago to seek a second mandate from the Philippines' electorate of over 40 million.

After taking over from Estrada, she moved to stabilize the economy, and her re-election campaign has focused on presenting herself as the only candidate with the experience to manage the economy responsibly.

She has promised a million jobs every year if elected. She has also vowed to triple loans to small businesses, build 3,000 new schools, cut the prices of medicines and bring water and electricity to villages in the countryside.

At a recent gathering of chief executives of top corporations at the Makati financial district of Manila, Arroyo pledged to rescue the Philippines from poverty -- more than 80 percent of all households live on less than two dollars a day or less.

"This is not an idle promise," Arroyo, a former lecturer, told the Makati Business Club. "A leader must present a specific platform for how to break the cycle of poverty and cynicism that pervades the nation."

She said the business community and the public could choose her "or take a risk on an inexperienced actor who is too reliant on advisers to make important decisions."

Arroyo was referring to her closest rival, Fernando Poe, a movie-star friend of Estrada who commands a huge following among the masses, but has little formal education and no record of public service.

But Arroyo was preaching to the converted. Polls show she has the overwhelming support of the business elite, but it is the poor voters attracted by the celebrity of Poe that she must win over.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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