President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo shrugged off constant coup rumors, sagging popularity and corruption allegations against her family, vowing yesterday to implement more reforms to kick start the Philippine economy.
Arroyo was generally upbeat in a wide-ranging interview, reiterating "total commitment" to the war against terrorism, lauding increased cooperation with China that has yielded nearly a US$5 billion trade surplus for Manila, and promising to cut red tape and improve infrastructure.
She said she would start a series of visits June 20 to Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan to encourage businessmen to invest in her country.
Constitutionally prohibited from seeking another term, Arroyo promised to implement needed reforms no matter what the political fallout.
Her approval rating has dropped to an all-time low, according to a poll released on Friday that said 59 percent of respondents said they were dissatisfied with Arroyo's performance, and only 26 percent said they were satisfied.
Arroyo said some of that dissatisfaction stems from factors over which she has no control, such as the recent rise in oil prices. Allegations that her husband and son took kickbacks from the popular but illegal numbers game called jueteng have hurt, too, although she pointed out that the stock market has rallied despite the claims.
The general unhappiness has fueled fresh rumors of an impending coup attempt. Such rumors have become a constant in a country where peaceful "people power" revolutions have ousted two leaders since 1986.
"Coup rumors are an especially sad part of Philippine political life, and they should be really put to rest once and for all," Arroyo said while claiming that opponents only foster instability for their own gain.
"I have a plan for our country and I work at it every day. The other side has no plan for our country but to throw the engine in reverse," she said.
Relations with Washington remain good, despite strains last year when Manila withdrew its small peacekeeping force in Iraq early to obtain the release of a Filipino truck driver who had been kidnapped there.
"Together with the United States, we've been upgrading our capability and fusing our intelligence to fight terrorism, especially in the south," Arroyo said, adding that
"We've been able to neutralize 100 known international terrorists, both those who grew up in the Philippines and those who sneaked into the country. We've convicted about 17 of these terrorists. The Abu Sayyaf is degraded, and we continue in our pursuit of the Jemaah Islamiyah," she said.
Arroyo said US President George W. Bush endorsed Manila's warming ties with China.
"Our relations with China have improved tremendously, and I think they will continue to improve," she said. "Our trade with China has grown by leaps and bounds. It's over US$13 billion now from virtually nothing before they entered WTO ... and the balance of trade is almost US$5 billion in our favor."
She also touted her administration's efforts to root out endemic corruption -- which includes hiring Hong Kong anti-corruption czar Tony Kwok -- and a crackdown on tax cheats.
"We've had the highest [tax] collection and the highest increase in history, and we've also had a budget surplus for the month for the first time in many years," Arroyo said. "And the commissioner of customs called me a few nights ago and gave me a similar report."