MANILA, OCTOBER 7, 2011 (STAR) A Study of Corazon Aquino and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo - By Jaylyn Silvestre, Faculty Mentor: Professor Khatharya Um, Graduate Student Mentor: Jonathan Marshall


Two women have risen to the presidency in the Philippines in the last fifteen years.

Corazon Aquino, (photo left) the first female to ascend to the presidency in the country’s history, was elected after the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos amidst charges of criminal wrongdoing.

Fifteen years later, Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo succeeded Joseph Estrada, who had been accused of corruption and plundering the Philippine economy. Not only is it rare for a woman to be elected president, but it is also least expected in countries like the Philippines that have a long history of patriarchy, oligarchy, and subordination of women.

Even though the Philippines has an elected bicameral legislature and elected officials in lower levels of government, there are few female elected officials. In 1939, women were given suffrage and the right to stand for elections. Since then, only 9.8% of the 224 lowerhouse seats have been held by women (Who’s Who of Women in World Politics 1991).

(PHOTO - Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) In spite of the Philippines’ patriarchal institutions, narrow elite class, and repression of women, other social variables such as family ties, the Catholic Church, a context of corruption and gender symbolism allow women to enter into the male-dominated political arena.

The Rise of Women Leaders 
Jaylyn Silvestre [166] The Berkeley McNair Research Journal

To understand how women are elected in the Philippines, this paper is structured as a comparative study that explores Corazon Aquino’s and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s successions and their interaction with these four variables: family ties, the Catholic Church, the context of corruption and gender symbolism.

Previous studies of Southeast Asian women leaders have found that family ties are necessary for women candidates to win elections (Richter 1990). Family ties, specifically those to politically active men, explain why Aquino and Arroyo received immediate recognition.

The dramatic death of a prominent political husband was most significant in Aquino’s rise to power, while Arroyo’s father-daughter relationship with the former president of the Philippines, Diosdado Macapagal, increased her campaign recognition.

Family ties might explain how both women attracted voters’ attention in their campaigns but does not explain how they successfully managed to work against the assumption that men should be at the forefront of leadership and decision-making.

In addition to family ties, scholars believe that without the Catholic Church’s support, a woman would not have succeeded (UST Social Research 1986).

Even though the Philippines’ political structure is modeled after the American system, the Philippines’ political culture has its roots in the oligarchic system established during Spanish colonialism. Since the Catholic Church is a male-dominated institution, it is reasonable to question why the church mobilized voters to support a female candidate. Jaime Cardinal Sin, (photo at right) the Archbishop of Manila, requested corrupt leaders to step down from power.

He led the mass non-violent movement against corrupt leadership at Epiphania de los Santos Avenue (EDSA), the focal point for Aquino’s and Arroyo’s rise to power.

While the Catholic Church’s involvement explains the development of candidate support, it fails to explain why that candidate was a woman. The Catholic Church’s concept of a woman being morally superior to a man perhaps explains the Church’s support of women candidates in movements against corruption.

The Rise of Women Leaders in the Philippines: A Study of Corazon Aquino and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo - The Berkeley McNair Research Journal

Both Aquino and Arroyo (photo left) ascended to the presidency after the removal of a corrupt leader. There are two approaches to looking at corruption and how it affects the fate of political leaders.

Jon Moran (1999) asserts that corruption is pervasive and affects politics, economics and social relations in general. Social movements arise because corruption affects an individual’s economic well-being, and these social movements push for fundamental change.

Another view of corruption is that it involves only top political leaders who come to symbolize corruption. In this interpretation, social movements seek to defeat top political leaders (Wurfel 1988). Like Moran, Wurfel argues that social movements arise because corruption affects an individual citizen’s economic well-being and that individuals join together to push for fundamental change, but in this case change means calling for a shift among those who rule.

The context of corruption explains the demand for new leadership but does not explain the candidate choice made by elites and voters. Culture also plays a role in determining how elites and voters choose their candidate (Iwai 1993). One element of Filipino culture that may explain why people elect a female candidate is the symbolic role of women in Philippine society.

Since the colonial era, women have been taught to conform to the behaviors of their ideal mother, the Virgin Mary, upon whom is built a “cult of feminine spiritual superiority, which teaches that women are semi-divine, morally superior to and spiritually stronger than men” (Stevens 1973, 91).

Women leaders who embrace the Catholic faith represent a positive image in society and are distinguished by purity (Iwai 1993, 108). Both Aquino and Arroyo invoked this cultural belief in women's morally superior role in order to legitimize their entrance into public office at a time of political upheaval.

[Photo Courtesy of web site of The Pinoy Catholic]

While family ties and the Catholic Church play a role in determining the outcomes of these presidential elections, the cultural construction of women as “Madonnas” allowed first the election of Aquino and then the succession of Arroyo to the presidency at times when political leaders had been charged with corruption.

Philippine culture encourages voters to view women as less prone to corruption than men. This means that in times of political corruption, women who seek higher office have an advantage over male politicians.

From Dictator to Housewife Aquino would not have gained immediate recognition nor have been selected to run for office without her relationship to a prominent male politician.

Corazon Aquino was the wife of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, (photo left) the candidate who opposed Ferdinand Marcos and exposed his corruption. Marcos had demonstrated his abuse of power by manipulating his men to assassinate Ninoy Aquino. As the widow, Corazon Aquino was urged to run in the election against Marcos.

The political party of her husband was sure that Aquino was the best candidate to defeat Marcos in the 1986 election. Not only was she seen as the victim of Marcos’ corruption but “almost as a Madonna, a saint in contrast to the wily, corrupt Marcos” (Richter 1990).

The turning point of Corazon Aquino’s rise to power was the involvement of the Roman Catholic Church in the fight against corruption. Marcos’ dealings with the church remained cordial until the late 1960s, but following the imposition of martial rule in September 1972, church-state relations began to deteriorate with the loss of civil liberties, increased abuses of human rights by the military, and the rise of graft, corruption, and economic mismanagement. (Youngblood 1990, xi)

The Church’s inability to lift the poor from their economic struggle gave Cardinal Sin, the Archbishop of Manila, the necessity and urgency to mobilize a nation-wide movement for the poor and fight for socio-economic change. During the election, Cardinal Sin served as Aquino’s personal campaign manager and asked the people to “vote for persons who embody the Gospel values of justice, humility, truth…” and thus elect a candidate “immune” from corruption (UST Research Center 1986, 38).

Aside from the Church’s support in invoking the Madonna image, a woman candidate benefits from her close association with the head of the Catholic Church.

Since the Philippines’ religious population is made up of Roman Catholics (83%), a devout Catholic woman closely affiliated with the Archbishop of Manila is likely to succeed in elections.

According to the Social Weather Stations (SWS) 1991 national election report, 67% of voters would favor a candidate that his or her church supports. This study reported that 49% of female voters found a church endorsement important, against only 29% of male voters (Mangalindan 1991). A relationship with the Church is thus an important asset for women voters.

Ferdinand Marcos’ (photo) corrupt leadership heightened the support for Aquino’s candidacy.

Aquino was an unusual candidate: a politically inexperienced woman who took the risk to compete against a corrupt leader who had murdered her husband. Ferdinand Marcos’ twenty-year rule of corruption pushed people to demand a new form of leadership. The first family’s accumulation of wealth, Marcos’ manipulation of the army, and the increased economic disparity between rich and poor exposed Marcos’ manipulative power and “immoral governance.”

At the same time, women were growing more involved in the political process after a large number of women had been recruited to work outside of their home by manufacturing and textile concerns. Women were paid below minimum wage and worked under hazardous conditions. In response to the increasing abuse of women, radical groups of women organized against Marcos’ dictatorship.

As guardians of morality, these women fought for peace, justice and democracy. Perhaps this explains Aquino’s sense of duty to run against Marcos as well as the rise of a feminist movement that supported her candidacy.

According to the 1991 national election report, the reputation of a politician matters in his or her success. Relatives and close associates of former president Marcos were found to be least likely to succeed: only a fourth of potential voters would have favored the relatives of Marcos as opposed to 68% of those who would not have (Mangalindan 1991).

This study shows that perceptions of corruption affect Filipino voters’ candidate preferences. Even though Aquino was accused of being inexperienced and a housewife by her opponent, it was this image that gave her mass support and worked against her opponent.

Aquino’s campaign rhetoric stressed her difference from her male opponent: “I admit that I have no experience in cheating, stealing, lying or assassinating political opponents” (Gwilym 1989).

[PHOTO - Philippine President Corazon Aquino gives the Philippine revolution sign to a standing ovation at Memorial Hall at Harvard University after delivering her address on September 20, 1986. Matina Horner, President of Radcliffe College (R) looks on. (UPI Photo/George Riley/Files)]

The media portrayed her as a housewife, a widow of a political leader and a religious woman, suggesting that Aquino was not just “pure” but “immune” to corruption.

Another Victory against Corruption Aquino's succession opened a new door for women to run for national positions. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was the second woman to rise to power after the ouster of a corrupt leader.

She was in the right position to become the Philippines’ second female president when she succeeded Joseph Estrada (photo right). Legislative elections in the Philippines are based on proportional representation, and the President and the Vice President are elected separately.

This can result in a President and Vice President from opposing political parties, such as Arroyo and Estrada.

Estrada was unlike the autocratic Marcos. He was a former movie actor who enjoyed widespread popularity and won the presidential election with the support of the poor.

Arroyo ran in 1998 as the Vice Presidential candidate of the coalition that opposed Estrada.

This election was described in the media as a race between a babae [woman] and a babaero [womanizer] (Delgado-Yulo 2000). The media therefore identified Arroyo with her gender in such a way as to connote inferiority and undermine her candidacy. Arroyo’s political experience prevailed over attempts to weaken her candidacy.

Unlike Aquino, Arroyo was a woman accustomed to power. The public recognized Arroyo as a former senator and the daughter of a former president.

In 1998 she was elected Vice President of the Philippines with almost 13 million votes, the largest mandate in the history of presidential or vice presidential elections (Mangahas 1998).

Estrada’s impeachment and resignation meant that Arroyo succeeded to the presidency without having to run for that office. The question is, what made it possible for Arroyo to succeed Estrada legitimately?

What gave her the confidence to take the risk of confronting a sitting president who was popular with the poor? In the 1991 national election study, a slim majority of voters agreed with the statement that a woman is capable of governing the country. Table 1 shows men and women to be surprisingly close in their responses.

The most interesting result is the large net difference in Metro Manila (GMA) in favor of a woman, which suggests that female candidates in general find most of their support in Metro Manila. FOR FULL 14-PAGE REPORT (pdf file) CLICK

FLASHBACK: Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo: December 2000

She wants to emulate two former presidents. She looks up to his father, the late President Diosdado Macapagal for his integrity. She admires former President Corazon Aquino for becoming the first woman to run Malacañang. Today, she believes she is prepared to follow their footsteps.

"I will follow my father's footsteps by doing what is right, and God will take care of the rest. My father is my role model. My living role model is Cory Aquino. I am prepared," Vice-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo told the prestigious magazine Asiaweek.

At 53, Arroyo prepares to takeover the presidency, should incumbent President Joseph Estrada give in to the demands that he leave his post. Asked how soon Estrada should resign, she said: "As soon as possible. If he could resign now, all the better."

Various sectors of Philippine society are clamoring for the resignation of President Estrada over allegations that he accepted bribe money from operators of jueteng, an illegal gambling game. Estrada denied this, and blamed his political opponents for insinuating the moves to unseat him.

Arroyo who was a part of the Estrada Cabinet left the administration to lead the Opposition party. The Constitution provides that she, as vice president, will assume the presidency should Estrada resign or be impeached.

She argues that President Estrada should leave Malacañang soon to save the failing economy. When asked if things would improve if she would replace Estrada, Arroyo said: "Yes. Things are so bad now."

"Leadership by example, transparency, a good work ethic and a dignified lifestyle," Arroyo said of the kind of government she intends to lead. "I'll just have to emulate my father (President Diosdado Macapagal, who served from 1961-1965, photo at right). During his time, the Philippines was second only to Japan in Asia."

Arroyo was born to the late President Macapagal and the late Dr. Evangelina Macaraeg on April 5, 1947. She spent her childhood years with her maternal grandmother in Iligan City. Described by her teachers as a bright student, she graduated as high school valedictorian from Assumption Convent.

For two years, she was in the dean's list at Georgetown University where she met US President Bill Clinton as a classmate. At her sophomore year at the American university, she went back to the Philippines to marry Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo, now a successful businessman.

In Manila, she pursued a degree in commerce at Assumption College where she graduated as magna cum laude. She earned a Master's Degree in Commerce at the Ateneo de Manila University and went on to complete a Ph.D. in Economics at the University of the Philippines.

After completing her studies, she taught Economics subjects at Assumption College, Ateneo de Manila, and U.P. She also served as a columnist at the now defunct Manila Chronicle. Former President Aquino assigned her as an assistant secretary at the Department of Trade and Industry. In 1992, she ran for public office and won a seat in the 24-man Philippine Senate. That was the start of her thriving political career.

In 1995, she sought reelection and topped all senatorial winners by garnering more than 16 million votes. She was elected vice-president in the 1998 elections, the same time Estrada won the presidency. President Estrada eventually designated her as secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

[PHOTO - Pres. Gloria Arroyo with former US President Bill Clinton[

She remained a part of the Estrada administration until October this year, when Ilocos Sur Governor Luis Chavit Singson implicated President Estrada in the jueteng scam. But Arroyo herself was also linked to jueteng operators, particularly Bong Pineda, the husband of Lubao, Pampanga Mayor Lilia Pineda.

Arroyo denied the allegations. She admitted though that she stood as a godmother during the baptism of one of Pineda's children. "It was out of a Christian duty that I became a godmother -- one of several -- during a baptism of one of his children. I've consulted Cardinal Jaime Sin on this, and he told me that the sin of the father is not the sin of the child," she said.

When asked of her stand on gambling, Arroyo said: "I follow the stand of the Church on almost all of the political issues with a moral dimension. So I view gambling as a social evil."

Arroyo said the economic and political turmoil in the country would continue until President Estrada leaves Malacañang. But senators of the majority party disagree. Senator Juan Ponce Enrile said the present economic problem would persist even under an Arroyo administration, adding that it was a crisis of regional proportion affecting the whole of Asia.

For Arroyo, however, the key to ending the problem is the change in leadership and political system. "Our political system needs changing. It needs to move away from personalities and patronage to a system of party programs and consultation with the people. We also need to improve moral standards in the government and Philippines' society," she said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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