Thu, Jul 01, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Arroyo promises tough approach

INAUGURATION The Philippine president, after a contentious election, promised plenty of reform. But observers doubted how much could be done


Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo waves yesterday after being sworn in.


Gloria Macapagal Arroyo began a new six-year term as president of the Philippines yesterday, promising to drive through tough economic reforms that would hurt the rich to benefit millions of poor.

Arroyo pledged to crack down on the corruption that dogs the country and called on the opposition to bury the hatchet after bitterly fought elections on May 10.

"The government must make tough choices. But this I promise, they'll be tougher on those who have it easy than those who have it tough already," Arroyo said in a speech at a Manila park lashed by winds whipped up by a typhoon off the coast.

Arroyo should be able to take a harder line against vested business and political interests because she no longer needs to worry about re-election but she must score some quick wins, said Mike Moran, regional economist at Standard Chartered Bank.

"She's making the right sounds, she's talking the talk," Moran said.

"Now's the time to really walk the walk as well. That's what she's going to be judged on," he said.

The 57-year-old economist and daughter of a late president began her new term at midday when she was sworn in by Hilario Davide, chief justice of the Supreme Court, in central Cebu City.

The inauguration of Arroyo and her vice president, former television broadcaster Noli de Castro, was attended by 55 ambassadors and about 2,000 other guests but no heads of state.

"Gloria's promises are good but I don't know if it will all be done," said Cebu resident Ignacio Tabilang. "The government is deep in debt."

Security forces were on alert for opposition attempts to disrupt the ceremonies and after the arrest of several suspected Muslim militants on Tuesday for planning bomb attacks in Manila.

About 1,000 protesters, some carrying posters calling Arroyo the "mother of all cheaters," were kept from the white-washed Cebu provincial capital building by police and fire trucks.

Arroyo insisted on simple, austere events on Wednesday to reflect the seriousness of her pledges to alleviate poverty.

After a marathon vote count confirmed her narrow victory over action movie hero Fernando Poe, Arroyo's low-key inauguration may also have been designed to placate an opposition shouting about massive election fraud.

With her first term marked by scant progress against dire poverty and corruption, Arroyo has promised to create 1 million jobs a year, put a computer in every classroom and provide water and electricity to every part of the far-flung archipelago.

Analysts find it hard to see how she can fulfil her bold plans when her goals also include eliminating persistent budget deficits by 2009, cutting power rates that are among Asia's highest and weaning the Philippines off heavy borrowing.

"I pledge to you a government that will live within its means and put every spare peso to real work," Arroyo said.

"And while I'm doing that, I will crack down on wasteful and abusive officials and influence peddlers," she said.

Arroyo first inherited the presidency in January 2001 after huge anti-corruption protests chased Joseph Estrada from office.

Her victory over Poe, a close friend of Estrada, gave her the mandate she previously lacked.

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