Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, faced with the prospect of civil unrest unless she steps down at the end of her term, has vowed not to try to extend her time in office.
In her final state of the nation address Monday, Arroyo defended
her record during her turbulent 8 1/2 years in power and assured
lawmakers she would not lift term limits set by the constitution.
"I have never expressed the desire to extend myself beyond my
term," Arroyo said. "At the end of this speech I shall step down
from this stage ... but not from the presidency. My term does not
end until next year."
She also said she will defend democracy when threatened by
violence in her last months in power - a clear warning to anyone
plotting to remove her by force.
The 62-year-old U.S.-trained economist has survived four coup
attempts and four impeachment bids since 2001. Her opponents have
accused her of maneuvering to extend her six-year term either by
amending the country's 1987 constitution to lift term limits or by
imposing martial law.
A Philippine president is limited to one six-year term, but
Arroyo, a former vice president, served part of another term after
succeeding Joseph Estrada, who was deposed in a 2001
military-backed revolt on corruption charges.
Riot police on Monday used trucks, barbed wire and shipping
containers to block more than 10,000 people who braved the rain to
protest outside the House of Representatives, where Arroyo gave her
hourlong annual speech. Protest leaders warned Arroyo of public
unrest if she clings to power.
"Ms. Arroyo's political maneuvers ... to perpetuate herself in
power will surely face the people's wrath," said leftist Rep.
Rafael Mariano, who boycotted Arroyo's speech and joined the
Opposition Rep. Roilo Golez, Arroyo's former national security
adviser, said the president's promise not to extend her stay in
office "may not be as categorical as some people would want it,
but it sounded like goodbye."
U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney also said Arroyo's address
"sounded like a final" speech in Congress.
Left-wing activist and lawmaker Satur Ocampo, however, said
Arroyo failed to ask her congressional allies to stop efforts to
amend the constitution to extend her term. "Such uncertainty will
continue to fuel protests," he said.
The rowdy demonstrators set on fire a huge effigy of Arroyo, who
was depicted as a decomposing figure in a red dress atop a military
tank labeled "Gloria Forever." A huge streamer read, "Gloria,
you're history." Eleven priests in white cassocks held letters
that formed the phrase, "Enough of GMA," Arroyo's initials.
In her speech, Arroyo said she was the first Southeast Asian
leader invited to the White House for a meeting Thursday with
President Barack Obama.
On the agenda will be security issues and terrorism, Arroyo
said. U.S. troops have been training Filipino soldiers battling
al-Qaida-linked militants in the southern Philippines.
Arroyo also said her government's fiscal measures protected the
Philippine economy from the global financial meltdown, resulting in
sustained growth over 33 quarters and getting close to a balanced
budget. She also pointed to advances in education, promotion of
next year's automated elections, improvements in infrastructure and
initiating fresh peace bids with Muslim and communist rebels.
Rosario Guzman, an economist with Ibon Foundation Inc. which
researches socio-economic issues, said the deficit remains huge
while education and infrastructure are inadequate.
The Philippines, which depends heavily on remittances from
millions of overseas workers to fuel its economy, also remains
vulnerable to the effects of the global economic crisis, Guzman