[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Arroyo greets her town mates as they troop to Malacañang Palace last Friday to urge her to run in the May 2010 elections. Mrs. Arroyo heeds their call, formally announcing today her congressional bid in the second district of Pampanga. AP (UPDATE) MANILA, Philippines]

MANILA, DECEMBER 1, 2009 (STAR) By Dino Maragay - It’s official: President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for congresswoman of the second district of Pampanga.

President Arroyo formally declared her bid for a congressional seat in Pampanga’s second district, a report from a government-run radio station said today. She will be the first Philippine President to pursue a lower public office.

"I have been mulling different ways to stay involved. After much soul searching, I have decided I will file my certificate of candidacy for Congress in order to serve the hardworking people of my province," Mrs. Arroyo said in a recorded statement aired over government-run dzRB.

Mrs. Arroyo added that she is not ready to leave public service. She is barred by the constitution from seeking a second term, and said today she'll step down following national elections in May, ending her administration's nine tumultuous years.

"I realized I am not ready to step down completely from public service," said the 62-year-old US-trained economist and a daughter of a former president. "As you know, people from my province of Pampanga have asked me to stay in public service, so after much soul-searching, I have decided to respond affirmatively to their call."

Atty. Romeo Macalintal, Mrs. Arroyo’s election lawyer, confirmed her decision to gun for a House seat in the May 2010 polls. He held a press briefing at the Malacañang Palace this afternoon to discuss Mrs. Arroyo’s 2010 plans in detail.

COC filing set tomorrow

Macalintal said Mrs. Arroyo will travel to Pampanga tomorrow to speak to supporters, after which a representative will file her candidacy papers.

After succeeding President Joseph Estrada, who was toppled by massive anti-corruption protests in 2001, Mrs. Arroyo went on to win her own six-year term in 2004 amid allegations of fraud.

She subsequently survived four impeachment bids initiated by the opposition in Congress, and four power grabs by disenchanted troops who blamed her for corruption and misrule.

Opinion polls have consistently found her to be the least popular president since late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was ousted in 1986.

Most recently, she fended off criticism of her political alliance with a powerful southern clan accused in the massacre of 57 people, nearly half of them journalists, in the country's south.

One critic, Randy David, a sociology professor at the University of the Philippines who briefly thought of running against Mrs. Arroyo, said she might use her congressional seat to work to amend the constitution from the current US-style to a parliamentary system under which she could eventually be installed prime minister.

Mrs. Arroyo told the radio interview "that situation is so hypothetical, I won't even bother to speculate about it."

The President has been working for several years to make those changes to the constitution, but has routinely been sidetracked by crises that left her struggling for her political survival.

Estrada was among opposition presidential candidates who filed their nominations Monday.

The presidential race is shaping up as a contest among the son of the late president and democracy icon Corazon Aquino, Benigno "Nonoy" Aquino III; fellow senator Manuel Villar, a wealthy real estate developer; and administration candidate Gilbert Teodoro, a former defense chief.

Comelec: GMA can run

Meanwhile, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) reaffirmed that there is no legal impediment in President Arroyo’s planned congressional bid.

"Yung pag-file ng Pangulo, walang problema dun, walang legal impediment," Comelec spokesman James Jimenez told reporters.

Jimenez said the law does not prohibit the sitting or incumbent President to gun for a lower position in government office.

He noted that elective officials are allowed to return to their duties after filing their COCs.

Mrs. Arroyo's critics have earlier urged her to step down in the event she decides to run for a lower public office.

Some critics said she might try to use the new perch — a seat in the lower house that she is sure to snag — to retain significant power by seeking high posts or even working toward the creation of a prime ministership. – With Dennis Carcamo, AP

Senators, bishops slam GMA bid By Aurea Calica and Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) Updated December 01, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Senators and prominent Roman Catholic bishops said President Arroyo’s decision to run for congresswoman in Pampanga has shown her desperation for political survival.

The senators and the clergy said the move showed Mrs. Arroyo’s lack of sense of propriety and her insatiable lust for power.

“She’s setting a bad precedent – hanging on to presidential post and use of presidential power and funds to crush any congressional opponent,” Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said.

“She’s making political playing field uneven versus all democratic demands for fairness,” Pimentel said.

Sen. Francis Escudero said that while it was Mrs. Arroyo’s right to seek a lower public officee, “it surely leaves a bad taste in the mouth.”

“What else does she need to prove and accomplish? Perhaps that's her exit plan to ensure protection,” Escudero said.

Mrs. Arroyo’s critics believe a congressional seat would pave the way for her bagging the speakership and eventually give her the clout to initiate a shift to a parliamentary form of government with herself as prime minister.

Sen. Manuel Villar, standard bearer of the Nacionalista Party, said it would be up to the people to judge Mrs. Arroyo based on how she has performed in her nine years in office.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan said he was not surprised that Mrs. Arroyo would be ready to sacrifice propriety for political survival.

“I recall Senator Joker Arroyo saying that her running for Congress would be demeaning but (for President Arroyo) nothing is demeaning when it comes to political survival,” Pangilinan said.

“Running for public office as a means to protect one’s personal interests has been done countless of times in the past by many other politicians,” he said.

“Since the Hello Garci controversy, President Arroyo’s sole focus has been political survival that has pushed her to seek a congressional seat,” he said.

“For President Arroyo, it is better to be in office than out of it because the office and the powers that come with it will be used as vehicle to protect herself,” he added.

“This has little to do with public service and has more to do with protecting one’s back from the threat of political persecution. She is desperately looking for a soft landing after 2010,” he said.

“She will win, yes and she will try her best to use the office to protect herself. I doubt very much though if she will succeed in finding a way out, in achieving the soft landing she desires,” he said.

“In the final analysis, it is said that history can be a cruel judge and she cannot escape the judgment of history, none of us can,” Pangilinan said.

Sen. Manuel Roxas II, for his part, rebuffed Mrs. Arroyo’s claim that her desire to serve the public was her motivation for seeking a lower post after the end of her term.

“It’s intriguing that after nine years in office she claims to have not done enough. Maybe she has motives for running again but serving the people definitely is not one of them,” Roxas said in Filipino. Roxas, Liberal Party candidate for vice president, was in Pampanga yesterday with Sen. Benigno Aquino III, the party’s standard bearer.

Nevertheless, Roxas said he is confident voters in Pampanga are also seeking genuine reforms as shown by the swearing in today of 63 local officials and prospective candidates, into the LP.

“Now we see that Gloria’s supposed bailiwick is also a bailiwick of hope. Here and in other parts of the country, we can hear the resounding call of all Filipinos for real change),” Roxas said.

“Contrary to the claim of certain camps, Pampanga is owned by nobody but by Pampangueños who hunger and thirst for change. The Philippines is owned by nobody but Filipinos who want the status quo of traditional and transactional politics be overturned by transformational leadership,” he said.

“It was unthinkable for us to see a sitting President to run as a congressman,” NP spokesman Gilbert Remulla said.

“There will be questions to its legality for her to do without vacating her post. It is, however, unquestionable in its impropriety because it smacks of desperation to cling to power at all costs,” Remulla said.

“Actually, on a personal note and as former member of Congress, all I can say iis, this is going to be very dangerous for (the next) sitting president to become a member of Congress. With the so many resources that she got, she can ally with a big bloc of sitting congressmen and be a hindrance to a House Speaker in working for the impeachment of a sitting president,” said Remulla.

Meanwhile, Sen. Pia Cayetano said Mrs. Arroyo’s running for congresswoman would only fuel the public’s distrust of her.

“If she will insist on it, her distrust level among our people will further rise because she will continue to be perceived as insensitive, with an insatiable greed for power,” she said.

“Her stepping down will demonstrate a statesmanship never seen from her and a good precedent for our future leaders,” said Cayetano, who is running for senator under the NP slate.

‘Temptation of power’

Several prelates including Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president and Jaro Iloilo Archbishop Angel Lagdameo voiced their concern over Mrs. Arroyo’s decision.

“I wholeheartedly suggest she gives others a chance to serve and not give in to temptation of power,” Lagdameo said in CBCPNews, the official news service provider of the CBCP.

“She would have shown some statesmanship if she does not run or political delicadeza,” Catarman Bishop Emmanuel Trance said.

Laoag Bishop Sergio Utleg said he believes “she should retire.”

“It’s not proper for a former president to seek a lower position,” Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad said. “She is already in the category as an elder adviser or statesman of our nation,” he added.

A staunch Arroyo critic Lingayen-Dagupan Pangasinan Archbishop Oscar Cruz said the president “manifests addiction to power, exhibits lack of propriety and remains fixated to have a Cha-Cha (Charter change)– once elected – as soon as possible, to target the Office of Prime Minister.”

Legazpi Bishop Emeritus Lucilo Quiambao also said it would be better for President Arroyo not to run.

“The reason is political dynasty and might be interpreted as cover up for something,” he said. He said the move was “self-demotion.” With Evelyn Macairan

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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