June 30, 2005
Manila: President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, already under pressure over allegations that she rigged last year’s election, said Wednesday that her corruption-tainted husband will leave the country to protect her credibility.
“My husband has volunteered to go abroad … to remove himself from any situation which will cast doubts on my presidency,” Arroyo told a business forum.
“He, and even his contributions to health care and sports development, have been the object of pillory, especially by my political enemies, who have been trying to distract me from fulfilling my reform agenda as president,” she said.
The move appeared designed to placate investors worried about instability and help Arroyo – who has made the fight against corruption a cornerstone of her presidency – win back public trust shaken to its foundations by the election scandal and allegations that her relatives took kickbacks from illegal gambling.
Cora Guidote, presidential consultant on investment relations said political stability was crucial to attract overseas investment. But that currently investors were “holding back.”
Michael Wootton, chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, said while Arroyo’s announcement was “a remarkable statement to hear,” he didn’t think it would necessarily boost investor confidence.
The Philippine stock market slipped Wednesday for the second straight day, and the peso fell to a five-month low.
Arroyo’s husband Mike, a lawyer from a prominent family, has been portrayed as an influence-peddler, working behind the scenes under the president’s protection.
While no firm evidence has emerged, he has been accused – along with Arroyo’s son and brother-in-law, both members of the House of Representatives – of taking kickbacks from operators of jueteng, a popular illegal numbers game. The allegations are the subject of a Senate inquiry.
“I love my wife very much,” Mike Arroyo said in a statement. “It has been difficult for me to see her suffer through the negative press that I have received.”
The announcement came two days after Arroyo broke her silence in a three-week-old scandal over wiretap recordings, acknowledging in a televised speech that she talked to an election official about protecting a million-vote victory margin in May 2004 presidential polls. But while she apologized for the lapse, she denied rigging the polls and said she won’t resign.
Arroyo made no mention of the election scandal Wednesday, but appealed again for unity.
“Let there be no mistake: I’m committed to a day when we can truly be proud to be one nation. That’s why, the divisions within our country must end,” she said.
An adviser to the president, Rep. Joey Salceda, said she was expected to announce a Cabinet reshuffle in the coming weeks.
“This will be a chance for her to remove people who erode credibility … and to rebuild” her presidency, Salceda said.
It will also be an opportunity to bring in “reasonable elements of the opposition” and recruit fresh talent from the private sector, he said.
The opposition said the Arroyo’s announcement that her husband would leave the Philippines was a way of trying to shift the focus away from allegations of election fraud.
“The intention here is to placate or appease some of her own supporters because it does not really address the issues confronting us, and this is the ability of the president to lead amid allegations about fraud in the elections,” House minority leader Rep. Francis Escudero told DZBB radio.
Susan Roces, widow of Fernando Poe Jr., who finished second in last year’s election and died of a stroke in December, called on Arroyo to resign.
“The gravest thing that you (Arroyo) have done is that you have stolen the presidency, not once, but twice,” an emotional Roces told a news conference.
Arroyo first assumed the presidency in January 2001 when she was vice president to Joseph Estrada, who was ousted in massive street protests over allegations of corruption. She then won her own six-term term last year.
Estrada, detained while on trial for the capital offence of economic plunder, has also demanded Arroyo step down. The third-and fourth-place finishers in last year’s election have called for a new vote.