Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (born 1947) assumed presidency of the Philippines in 2001, after a corruption scandal forced her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, from the post. Her move into Malacanang Palace, the presidential residence, served as a homecoming. Macapagal-Arroyo’s father, Diosdado Macapagal, served as president of the Philippines in the 1960s, and Macapagal-Arroyo told reporters she looked forward to sleeping in her old bedroom. The Macapagal-Arroyo presidency has not been without its share of problems. The island nation is plagued by economic depression, the government has been involved in battles with militant rebels, and Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration has faced its own charges of impropriety.
Macapagal-Arroyo was born on April 5, 1947, in San Juan in the Philippine province of Rizal. She is the daughter of former Philippine president Diosdado Macapagal and his second wife, Evangelina (Macaraeg) Macapagal, the daughter of prominent parents who worked as a doctor until the outbreak of war in 1941. Diosdado was born a peasant and became an actor and then a lawyer and professor of economics. He worked for the Foreign Service and served in the Philippine Congress before being elected vice-president of the country in 1957. He served as the nation’s president from 1961-1965. “He was a highly dedicated public servant,” Macapagal-Arroyo recalled, as quoted in The Power and the Glory: Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Her Presidency by Isabelo T. Crisostomo. “God is first in his priority list, followed by the country and lastly his own family. And because the country comes first before family, he made a special arrangement with my mother. In public service, he was supreme and she would not meddle. But at home my mother was supreme and he was not allowed to meddle.”
Raised in Two Towns
Macapagal-Arroyo was raised in both San Juan and her mother’s hometown of Iligan, on the island of Mindanao, where she lived from the age of four to eleven with her maternal grandmother, Irinea de la Cruz Macaraeg. Reportedly, Macapagal-Arroyo moved in with her grandmother because she was jealous of her younger brother, Diosdado Jr., although Crisostomo theorized in The Power and the Glory that Irinea Macaraeg prevailed on Macapagal-Arroyo’s parents to let their daughter live with her so she could dote on her granddaugter. After the age of 11, Macapagal-Arroyo commuted between her grandmother’s home and her parents’. In 1994, at Diosdado Macapagal’s urging, the Philippine government turned the house in Iligan into a tourist destination featuring memorabilia related to the Macaraeg and Macapagal families.
Macapagal-Arroyo attended primary and secondary school at Assumption College in the Philippine capital of Manila. When she was 15, her father became president and she moved into the Malacanang Palace with her family. She graduated from high school in 1964 and was named valedictorian of her class. From 1964 to 1966, Macapagal-Arroyo attended Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where she was classmates with future United States President Bill Clinton. Macapagal-Arroyo returned to Manila after two years at Georgetown to be with her future husband,
Jose Miguel “Mike” Tuason Arroyo, a law student from a political family who went on to become one of Macapagal-Arroyo staunchest supporters. The couple, who began dating when Macapagal-Arroyo was a teenager, were married on August 2, 1968. They have three children: Juan Miguel, born on April 26, 1969; Evangelina Lourdes, born on June 5, 1971; and Diosdado Ignacio, born on September 4, 1974.
Macapagal-Arroyo completed her undergraduate education in Manila, graduating magna cum laude from Assumption College with a degree in commerce in 1968. Initially, she stayed home to raise her children, but soon returned to academia. “Early in our marriage, I asked her to stay home, look after the kids, while I worked,” Mike Arroyo recalled in The Power and the Glory. “I saw how bored she was, wasting away that intelligence. So I told her she could go back to school, do what she wanted and I’d support her. I’ve supported her ever since.” Macapagal-Arroyo earned a master’s degree in economics from Ateneo de Manila University in 1978 and a Ph.D. in economics from the University of the Philippines in 1985. She worked as an assistant professor at both schools as well, from 1977 to 1987. From 1984 to 1987 she also chaired the Economics Department at Assumption College. In 1989, she became assistant secretary in the Department of Trade and Industry under president Corazon Aquino. She was later named Trade Undersecretary and Governor of the Board of Investments.
Launched Political Career
Macapagal-Arroyo launched her political career in 1992 at the age of 35, when she successfully ran for the Philippine Senate. Arroyo served as her “handler” during the campaign. While Macapagal-Arroyo placed only 13th in the election, she soon established herself as a major force in the Senate, sponsoring several important pieces of economics-related legislation. Arroyo ran for reelection in 1995, with Arroyo serving as her campaign manager. This time, she placed first with a record 16 million votes and a 3.2 million-vote lead over the second-place candidate. As Macapagal-Arroyo’s popularity soared, she initiated a bid for the presidency in the 1998 election, running under the banner of the newly formed Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (KAMPI) party. For a time, Macapagal-Arroyo led in the polls, pulling ahead of Joseph Estrada, the vice-president and leading contender. Macapagal-Arroyo withdrew from the race, however, after her running mate, Tito Sotto, became the target of a Senate investigation for his ties to a suspected drug lord. Macapagal-Arroyo instead ran for vice-president on the Lakas-NUCD-KAMPI combined party ticket and was elected to that post, receiving even more votes than Estrada, who was elected president. Soon after the election she also accepted the position of Secretary of Social Welfare and Development in Estrada’s cabinet.
While Macapagal-Arroyo planned to leverage her position into a successful presidential campaign, just as Estrada had done, her ascension to the nation’s top post came sooner than expected. By 2000, charges of corruption had begun to surface against Estrada and on October 12 of that year, Macapagal-Arroyo resigned from her cabinet and became leader of the United Opposition movement, which sought to remove Estrada from office and put Macapagal-Arroyo in his place. The popular opposition movement came to be known as People Power 2, referring to an earlier uprising in 1986, which ousted President Ferdinand Marcos. When approached by the media, Macapagal-Arroyo took a diplomatic approach regarding her new role. “We call it delicadeza,” she told Newsweek International in October 2000. “It’s not proper for me to comment on the options of resignation, impeachment or even a leave of absence, because I would be the beneficiary. The role that I see for myself is getting the opposition together, and working on the alternative national agenda that will serve as our road map for where we want to go.” Macapagal-Arroyo portrayed herself as a reluctant oppositionist, driven by a moral code. “I’m not a happy warrior, so it’s never pleasant to be opposing someone as far as I’m concerned. But I have to do what is right,” she continued in Newsweek International.
Following public demonstrations on January 19, 2001, People Power 2 ultimately prevailed. Estrada was forced from office, and Macapagal-Arroyo was named 14th president of the Philipines on January 20, 2001, becoming the first child of a former president to hold the post. As she anticipated this event, she told Time International in a November 2000 interview that she planned to look to two predecessors as examples: “I will follow my father’s footsteps in doing what is right, and God will take care of the rest. My father is my role model. My living role model is Cory Aquino. I am prepared.”
Although her recent predecessors had lived outside Malacanang Palace, Macapagal-Arroyo opted to return to her girlhood home. The new president faced numerous challenges, including an unstable economy and violent protests launched by Estrada’s supporters. She was also accused of providing special treatment to the jailed former president. On May 27, 2001, Islamic militants abducted 20 hostages at a resort in the province of Palawan, and Macapagal-Arroyo was thrust into the ongoing battle between the Philippine government and the rebel forces, known as Abu Sayyaf. Several other kidnappings by various criminal gangs followed. Macapagal-Arroyo officially adopted a hardline “no ransom” response to the rebels and launched military operations against them. Her administration was embarassed, however, when it was revealed that several of the hostages families paid ransom to the kidnappers directly, with some claiming that Philippine military officers received a portion of the funds. The Macapagal-Arroyo administration received another black mark when Mike Arroyo was accused of receiving bribes from a telecommunications company seeking government-approved contracts.
On the economic front, Macapagal-Arroyo developed a blueprint to lift the Philippines out of its financial crisis. In 2002, looking back on her first year as president, she cited the country’s economic survival as her greatest achievement, although she remained well aware that much work lay ahead, according to The Power and the Glory. “We have been able to survive, to have a higher growth rate than our neighbors,” she said. “I dwell on what must be done. I am a very focused person. I don’t focus on laurels, on feeling secure, feeling comfortable. Even on the day I was sworn in as president, I didn’t say, ‘Wow, I am now president,’ I said, ‘What should I do now?’ “
Elected to Full Term
Despite the obstacles and various charges of impropriety directed at those close to her, Macapagal-Arroyo was elected to a full six-year presidential term in May 2004. She edged out her closest competitor, Filipino actor Fernando Poe Jr., by only one million votes. In her inaugural address, Macapagal-Arroyo vowed to create up to 10 million jobs in the next six years, balance the budget, improve tax collection, provide inexpensive medicine for the poor, and unite the country. “Our nation must embrace a vision of economic opportunity, social cohesion and always an everdemocratic faith,” she stated, as quoted in the July 1, 2004, edition of the International Herald Tribune.
Macapagal-Arroyo made international headlines in July after a Filipino driver was kidnapped by militant rebels in war-torn Iraq. In defiance of the United States government’s requests, Macapagal-Arroyo honored the rebels’ demands to pull all Filipino troops out of the country. Later that month, she called for an end to political in-fighting in her own nation in order to turn the focus to economic recovery. After former president Estrada declared the Philippines a “nation in distress,” as reported on CNN.com on July 23, 2004, Macapagal-Arroyo stated in a State of the Nation address, “Let us set aside political bickering and politicking for at least one year.” She also used the address to reiterate her pledge to relieve poverty and promote economic growth.
Newsmakers, Issue 4, Gale Group, 2001.
Crisostomo, Isabelo T. The Power and the Glory: Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Her Presidency, J. Kriz Publishing Enterprises, 2002.
International Herald Tribune, July 1, 2004.
Newsweek International, October 30, 2000.
Time International, January 20, 2001.
Xinhua News Agency, November 8, 2004.
“Arroyo Pledges to Tackle Philippines Slump,” CNN.com,http://www.cnn.com, (May 22, 2005).