Philippines New President: More of the same?
A little over a week ago President Joseph Estrada was replaced by Mrs Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The ousting of Estrada was a culmination of many actions taken by hundreds of thousands of people against a corrupt President. The mass movement to oust Estrada embraced different forces — the middle class, the rich, some trade unions, the Catholic church, voluntary and civic organisations, non-government organisations, opposition parties. There was also an eleventh-hour shift against Estrada by military and police personnel who switched sides and supported "People's Power 2". While forcing Estrada to step down may be a positive development, long-term problems remain: the undermining of the government by the intervention of the armed forces; the erosion of separation between church and state; the vast gap between the rich and the poor; the question of land reform. "People's Power 2" was successful in mobilising the masses into the streets. Bringing social change to the poor of the Philippines is another matter, though Gloria Arroyo had promised to work towards eliminating poverty. But then, nobody ever says that they will maintain a system in which there are obscenely rich and desperately poor. A succession of Filipino Presidents have made similar commitments — Marcos, Ramos, Aquino, Estrada and now, Arroyo. The ruling class in the Philippines has welcomed the change of President as Estrada had become a hindrance to their business agenda. "In the Ramos era we did see more privatisations and improvement in competition, and that suddenly stopped when Estrada took office", says Arthur Woo, a Singapore economist. "Arroyo will have to find a way to implement those policies again", he added. Arroyo has also been welcomed by the IMF and the World Bank. The IMF is said to have been encouraged by Arroyo's first policy pronouncements and the peaceful transition in the Philippines which "offers much hope". World Bank President James Wolfensohn backed Arroyo's promise to fight poverty and restore good government and pledged the Bank's "continued support and cooperation". The World Bank's record is one of creating poverty, not fighting it. Mrs Arroyo has won support from US President George W Bush who told her in a phone conversation: "If I can assist you in any way, I would like to". Millions of Filipinos continue to live in poverty. Gloria Arroyo's presidency was delivered to her by the people who want a better life. If their aspirations are not met, they'll continue fighting until they are.