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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 June, 2005, 13:11 GMT 14:11 UK
Gloria Arroyo's toughest week
By Kate McGeown
BBC News

Mrs Arroyo apologising on television, 27 June
Mrs Arroyo has apologised for telephoning election officials
It has not been a good week for Philippines President Gloria Arroyo.

Firstly, after opposition accusations of vote-rigging, she admitted phoning an election official during the count for last year's presidential poll.

Two days later she regretfully announced that her husband - whom critics accuse of taking pay-offs from illegal gambling syndicates - would be moving abroad indefinitely.

Both announcements fuelled opposition calls for Mrs Arroyo to resign, and for people to turn out and protest against her.

But so far, this seemingly diminutive woman is standing her ground, determined that her political problems will not drive her from office.

"This appears to be the most serious blow to her so far in her presidency," said Tom Green, executive director of risk consultancy Pacific Strategies & Assessments.

"It is definitely hurting her, but it doesn't seem to be getting enough steam to force her out," he told the BBC.

The main allegation against Mrs Arroyo is that she committed election fraud by attempting to rig the May 2004 poll.

The allegation stems from a tape recording the opposition produced of a phone call between a woman sounding like the president and an election commissioner, apparently discussing the outcome of the vote.

Accused of using position to influence 2004 poll
Husband accused of influence-peddling and taking bribes
Son and brother-in-law also implicated
Family denies all allegations

While Mrs Arroyo did not directly refer to the tape recording, she apologised for speaking to an election official, calling it a "lapse of judgement". Although the phone call was not illegal, many Filipinos will view it as at least foolish, if not unethical.

She also said her conversation could not have influenced the result of the poll - in which she beat film star Fernando Poe Junior by more than 1m votes.

According to her supporters, Mrs Arroyo's apology was sufficient, and the government should now be allowed to move on.

"A lot of Filipinos have forgiven her already. They understand that no one's perfect," Isabel de Leon, the government press undersecretary, told the BBC.

But the president's critics are not about to let the matter rest.

After listening to Mrs Arroyo's address on Monday, opposition Senator Panfilo Lacson - who also ran against her in last year's election - accused her of lying and called for her to resign.

"Now that she has authenticated [the tape], she must vacate," Mr Lacson said.

Popular protests

According to Tom Green, the only real way to gauge the seriousness of Mrs Arroyo's situation is by looking at the number of protesters on the streets.

The president's two predecessors were both ousted from power by popular protests, with nearly a million people taking to the streets to get rid of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, and hundreds of thousands protesting against Joseph Estrada in 2001.

But despite calls from opposition leaders to rally against Mrs Arroyo, the protests in recent weeks have seen 3,000 demonstrators at most.

"People are reluctant to go back to the streets to oust yet another leader," said Mr Green. "They've seen that 'people power' movements don't correct anything."

Mrs Arroyo will draw comfort from the fact her support base - the Catholic church, middle classes and business elite - remains behind her, while the opposition has yet to provide an obvious alternative.

Susan Roces, the widow of defeated presidential candidate Fernando Poe
Opposition leaders hope Fernando Poe's widow can unite them

"The opposition is divided, there's a lot of infighting and there's no coherent, viable leader," Mr Green said.

One person emerging as a possible candidate for the role is Susan Roces, the widow of defeated presidential challenger Fernando Poe, who died of a stroke in December.

Ms Roces launched a vociferous attack on the president on Wednesday, accusing her of being "full of empty promises" and having "stolen the presidency, not once but twice".

Opposition senator Juan Ponce Enrile told Reuters that Ms Roces had "emerged as the strongest moral force for all opposition forces".

Tom Green is not so sure. "Because she is the widow of a loved figure, she might be influential," he said, "but she probably does not have enough charisma or support [to lead a united opposition]."

Reshuffle rumours

In recent days, Mrs Arroyo has tried to shore up her support with a series of measures designed to restore her credibility.

Her husband Mike Arroyo is moving abroad, distancing her from unproven allegations that he, her son and her brother-in-law were involved in taking bribes from illegal gambling syndicates.

On Thursday one of her key aides, agriculture minister Arthur Yap, resigned to contest tax evasion charges - again distancing the president from any resulting scandal.

There is also speculation that Mrs Arroyo is about to order a major cabinet reshuffle - a move which Mr Green says is designed to show she is taking note of recent events and providing a dramatic response.

But according to Isabel de Leon, the one thing Mrs Arroyo is not prepared to do is compromise on her controversial programme of reforms.

"She will not allow a few malcontents to prevent her from her mission," Ms de Leon said.

The government is planning to introduce a series of economic reforms, the most contentious of which involves raising the price of fuel - a move which would be welcomed by businesses but not by the general public.

But although Mrs Arroyo is likely to press ahead with certain reforms, Mr Green says she is "not comfortable enough in her office to take on the really hard issues that need to be addressed".

The main casualty of this whole affair might well be that the Philippines is left without a leader strong enough to push through hard-hitting changes to tackle the country's endemic corruption and its increasingly poor economy.

Arroyo problems see minister quit
30 Jun 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Arroyo's husband 'to move abroad'
29 Jun 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Press reflects Philippine fears
28 Jun 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Profile: Gloria Arroyo
27 Jun 05 |  Asia-Pacific

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