Philippine presidents in crisis: Arroyo and Aquino III (Part II)

Published May 26, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Sonny Coloma


Sonny Coloma

Just like the three presidents who served ahead of them, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Benigno S. Aquino III, and Rodrigo R. Duterte faced major crises during their tenure that tested their will and leadership mettle. How they dealt with the challenges and carried out the herculean task of leading the nation provides pointers and pathways for the incoming president.

President Arroyo was chief executive for nine and a half years as she served the unexpired term of ousted President Estrada. Her tenure was marked by several high-profile crises. Just like President Corazon Aquino, her regime was challenged by disaffected elements of the armed forces. On July 27, 2003, more than 324 soldiers occupied the Oakwood serviced apartments in the Makati commercial center. They demanded the resignation of Arroyo, then Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes, then Philippine National Police Director General Hermogenes Ebdane, and AFP intelligence chief Victor Corpus. The standoff ended after the government negotiated successfully with the mutineers.

She hurdled the “Hello Garci” crisis in July 2005 that cast a shadow on her election victory in 2004. Taped records of a wiretapped conversation between her and Comelec official Virgilio Garcillano were released to the public. She admitted in what is now remembered as the “I am sorry” speech that the conversation took place but denied that it was about rigging the election results. Recall that her Cabinet members, labeled as the “Hyatt 10,” called for her resignation from a luxury hotel in Pasay City but political forces identified with former President Ramos rallied behind her and she weathered the threat. Three impeachment complaints filed against her in the House of Representatives did not prosper.

In February 2006, she issued Proclamation No. 1017 to ward off a perceived military takeover attempt and spirited protest rallies against her regime. The Supreme Court declared the proclamation constitutional, but said it was “illegal to issue warrantless arrests and seize private institutions.” In November 2007, the high-profile Manila Peninsula standoff occurred, resulting in the arrests of then Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim and then detained Senator Antonio Trillanes IV. This is reminiscent of the Oakwood mutiny mounted by Trillanes and company in 2003.

One vital card in her crisis management deck was her appointment of 11 AFP Chiefs during her presidency that lasted for 10 years and five months.

Through all of these political crisis, the Arroyo administration was credited with having achieved the highest average GDP growth rates in the post–EDSA era at five percent for the period 2001 to 2008 compared to the 3.7 percent average of the Aquino administration and the 3.7 percent average growth during the Ramos and Estrada administrations. Former President Bill Clinton, Arroyo’s classmate in Georgetown University, lauded her for making “tough decisions that put the Philippine economy back in shape.”

On Aug. 23, 2010 — barely 55 days after President Benigno S. Aquino III took office — a disgruntled former police officer seized a tourist bus in Intramuros, brought it in front of the Quirino grandstand in Luneta and began a hostage drama that ended tragically in the death of eight tourists from Hong Kong. His tenure would be marked by other high-profile crises.

In 2013, a trilogy of major crises confronted him: the Zamboanga siege in September, the damage wrought by an intensity 7.2 earthquake that struck Bohol on Oct. 15, and the widespread damage and heavy death toll brought about by super-typhoon Yolanda or Haiyan.

On Sept. 9, 2013, rebel forces belonging to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) attempted to take over the Zamboanga City Hall and occupy the city. Some 300 armed insurgents, led by Habier Malik took hostages. President Aquino stayed in Zamboanga City for nine days to directly oversee the military and police operations that were mounted to end the siege.

He said he decided to be in the “war zone” because as commander-in-chief of the military and the police, “it was his responsibility to see to it that all government agencies would handle the crisis properly, not just the armed uprising but also the fate of thousands of displaced city residents.”

A month later, President Aquino stayed overnight and slept in an outdoor tent in Loon, Bohol after surveying the damage and distributing relief goods to residents displaced by the earthquake. According to newspaper reports: “A local official said the President’s overnight presence strengthened the residents’ belief in the statement of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology that the island was not in danger from another powerful earthquake.”

Super-typhoon Yolanda or Haiyan that made landfall in Samar then swept across the rest of the Visayas and Palawan on Nov. 8, 2013. Here’s how it was described by World Vision: “The typhoon’s fury affected more than 14 million people across 44 provinces, displacing 4.1 million people, killing more than 6,000 people and leaving 1,800 missing. In addition, Typhoon Haiyan damaged 1.1 million houses, destroyed 33 million coconut trees (a major source of livelihoods), and disrupted the livelihoods of 5.9 million workers. Overall damage is estimated at $5.8 billion.”

President Aquino appointed then former Senator Panfilo Lacson as Presidential Assistant for Recovery and Rehabilitation. Aside from mobilizing private sector support, Lacson is credited with the completion of a comprehensive report on the extent of the damage and a blueprint for ensuring full rehabilitation.

(Next installment: Crisis management in the Duterte administration)