PGMA reign ends, CGMA era begins
By GENALYN KABILING
President-turned-Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Wednesday left Malacañang for the last time as Chief Executive with a smile and a farewell wave to the nation, a bittersweet ending to a rollercoaster nine year-presidency marked by high economic growth and political unrest.
The outgoing President congratulated President-elect Benigno Aquino III during their brief meeting in the Palace and accompanied him to the Quirino Grandstand in Manila for his inauguration. She left before Aquino was sworn in as the country’s 15th President to take her oath in Pampanga as congresswoman of the second district.
The two leaders stood inside the Palace entrance lobby, sharing handshakes and posing for photographs, to mark the start of the formal turnover of power to the next leadership.
“Congratulations Mr. President,” said the President Arroyo who was all smiles when she greeted her successor at the Palace.
President-elect Aquino, looking relaxed in a barong tagalog and black pants, arrived at the Palace around 10:20 a.m. to fetch his predecessor for their ride together to the inaugural venue.
The two leaders shook hands at least four times at the entrance lobby, a symbolic gesture to the transfer of power soon to take place. In the Palace decorated with white orchids and yellow chrysanthemum flowers, photographers and television cameramen scrambled to record the slice of history.
Vice President Noli de Castro, Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza, Finance Secretary Margarito Teves, Justice Secretary Alberto Agra, Public Works and Highways Secretary Victor Domingo, and Press Secretary Crispulo Icban Jr. were present in the ceremony of the President.
The incumbent and Aquino then boarded the presidential car, a black Mercedes Benz S-Class with plate number 1, to the inaugural venue. The limousine ride took less than 10 minutes. The trip to the Quirino Grandstand was the outgoing President’s final official motorcade, a long parade and familiar sight that include an ambulance and several black vans filled with elite members of the Presidential Security Group.
Prior to meeting Aquino, Arroyo took a final stroll in her office at the Palace and then made final goodbyes to loyal aides and staff.
Several Palace aides and staff members occupying part of the Palace lobby were teary-eyed when they bade farewell to the outgoing Arroyo. “We will miss her. She is the most hardworking President,” said Jocelyn Mones, one of the Palace household members who cried when she left the Palace.
PGMA’s performance in retrospect
By GENALYN KABILING
Much has been said about President Arroyo’s nine years in office, with the bad seeming to outweigh the good.
While she worked tirelessly to advance the country’s economy, her governance has been marred by charges of corruption, human rights abuses, and election fraud.
She leaves behind a stable economy with unprecedented growth. She also leaves as the most unpopular president in Philippine history.
To be the most reviled leader in the country’s history and still survive nine tumultuous years and lead the country to peaks of economic growth is a testament to President Arroyo's enduring qualities – tough, hardworking, and intelligent.
A daughter of the late President Diosdado Macapagal, she has endured a number of dreadful challenges in politics, the economy, and security that nearly led to the downfall of her leadership. The diminutive leader, the country’s second female president, took all the hard punches and still remains standing.
Arroyo, a survivor of impeachment attempts, protest actions, and coup attempts, also made a number of hard decisions, including raising taxes, supposedly in the interest of the public even at the cost to her popularity. She could not care less about her record-low popularity rating as long as the economic numbers are good.
Her tough persona, however, has rubbed many people the wrong way, leaving an impression she is an aristocratic and ruthless leader, inconsiderate of the people’s feelings.
Aware of her sagging popularity, the President recently admitted that she was nearly tempted “to slow down, take it easy, choose the road more traveled, take the path of least resistance” to win more popularity, create fewer enemies, or pacify fierce opposition.
“I count myself fortunate in having been able to stand up to all those moments of weakness. It has always been a core conviction of mine that a leader must do what is right even if it might initially be unpopular. Very often, the right policies demand sacrifice – most of all from those in leadership – in order to secure a better future for the many. Democratic leadership is never easy,” she said in her foreword in the book, “Beat the Odds: Another Stone for the Edifice.”
Whenever a leader yields to what is momentarily popular but destructive to the country, he or she does a disservice to the nation, according to the President.
Another good aspect about the outgoing leader is her intelligence and economic sense. The US-educated economist has steered the nation from the threat of global recession, helping keep a positive growth rate.
In her 10-point legacy agenda, her government has generated 9 million jobs, advanced educational reforms, modernized transportation network, among others. Her political opponents however still criticize that all the President’s economic gains were not all translated into real benefits for the people.
President Arroyo, a former trade official before rising to become the country’s leader, also boasts of having a good work ethic. Hardly accused of having a midnight cabinet, she has dedicated her mornings to official engagements and afternoons to paper work in the Palace.
But her all-business attitude has triggered criticisms that she lacks the heart for the masses and merely wanted to prolong her stay in power beyond 2010. The usually quiet President also rarely shows her funny side, compared to her male predecessors. Former
Presidents Joseph Estrada and Fidel Ramos are known to be good-humored, often cracking jokes in public. Only in the remaining weeks in office did President Arroyo start to get cozy with the press and show her lighter side.
While she appeared aloof to the people, Arroyo is also considered a loving wife, mother, and grandmother.
She once defended the First Family from criticisms they were involved in money-making schemes in government. When her husband Jose Miguel Arroyo endured ailments, she skipped some of her engagements to be with him. Sundays were also reserved as family day of the Arroyos.
While she is hardly adored by the people, the President has declared in her farewell address that she is leaving a much stronger country when her tenure ends on June 30 but left that for history to judge.
“The judgment of history now begins of presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. We look forward to a dispassionate evaluation of her record for a change, one that will seek illumination of facts and numbers, not hide in the fog of ideology, partisanship, bad rhetoric, and worse reasoning,” Deputy Presidential Spokesman Gary Olivar said.