Former Philippine president returns as powerful Duterte ally

The Wall street journal

Two years after the dismissal of corruption charges against her, former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is back in a new role—speaker of the House of Representatives—where she can boost the political agenda of current President Rodrigo Duterte.

Ms. Arroyo, 71 years old, won election as speaker Monday, unseating her predecessor and creating chaos with a surprise last-minute bid. On Tuesday she issued a statement of support for Mr. Duterte as he doubles down on his bloody war on drugs, seeks to increase infrastructure spending, and pursues closer relations with China. Analysts believe she can bring the legislature’s lower chamber firmly behind the President, though signs of dissent delayed her swearing-in.

A classmate of Bill Clinton’s at Georgetown University, Ms. Arroyo is the daughter of a former president and an astute member of the country’s political elite. She was elected vice president in 1998 and three years later was sworn in to replace President Joseph Estrada, who was forced from office, under pressure from corruption charges, massive protest marches, and a loss of support by the military.

In addition to considerable power, Ms. Arroyo’s new role offers a chance at redemption. Her years as president were plagued by power struggles, allegations of corruption, and two mutinies by military officers. She survived them all to complete her term, only to suffer multiple arrests after leaving office in 2010.

It is common in the Philippines for top officials to face criminal charges once out of power, and Ms. Arroyo became an obvious target for an anti-corruption campaign led by her successor, Benigno Aquino III, who himself now faces charges of corruption. Mr. Aquino denies wrongdoing.

In one case Ms. Arroyo was charged with misusing lottery funds, which she denied, and held for more than four years in a military hospital, awaiting trial while being treated for what her doctors said was a spinal condition. The Supreme Court dismissed the charges in July, 2016, weeks after Mr. Duterte succeeded Mr. Aquino. She had earlier been detained on charges of attempting to rig an election, which were dropped before the case came to trial.

At one point during her televised swearing-in Monday, Ms. Arroyo’s microphone was cut off, interrupting the ceremony. It resumed during a special session following Mr. Duterte’s annual State of the Nation Address. Even then, a mace used in the ceremony was missing, spurring speculation that former Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez planned to resist Ms. Arroyo. Calls to Mr. Alvarez’s office rang unanswered.

The drama also delayed passage of a key piece of legislation granting self-governance to a long-marginalized Muslim-majority area of the southern Philippines. The law, a Duterte priority, is seen as a way to end a decades-long bloody separatist conflict that had become a hotbed for Islamist extremism.

Ms. Arroyo’s coup drew fire from some opposition lawmakers.

The shake-up in House leadership appeared to catch Mr. Duterte by surprise, and delayed his televised Monday afternoon speech by more than an hour. When he finally emerged from a holding room after being briefed on the situation, Mr. Duterte introduced Mr. Alvarez as speaker rather than Ms. Arroyo, who hadn’t yet been sworn in.
“We do not interfere in purely internal matters of the House,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Tuesday. “We have had very good relations with Speaker Arroyo.” (WSJ)