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Gloria Macapagal Arroyo Talkasia Transcript

Airdate: August 6th, 2005

VP: Veronica Pedrosa
GA: Gloria Macapagal Arroyo

Block A:

VP: We're in Malacanang Palace for a very special edition of TalkAsia. We're joined by Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

[One minute setup piece by Veronica Pedrosa]

It's been a trying two months for the embattled president. Mrs. Arroyo has faced mass demonstrations calling for her resignation. And in the political arena, opponents have filed impeachment charges. At the heart of crisis, the release of wiretapped conversations she had last year with an election official. A female voice that sounds like Mrs. Arroyo's asks if her margin of victory can be maintained. The tapes are notorious -- turning up everywhere. There was even a ring tone remix from the recordings.

The widow of her opponent gave a voice to the rising public anger. The tape scandal came on top of long running allegations against Mrs. Arroyo's relatives and husband -- that that received kickbacks linked to illegal gambling. So far, protests have not achieved the critical mass that toppled two previous Philippine presidents. The next weeks and months are critical.

[Back to interview]

VP: Mrs. Arroyo it's a pleasure to have you on the program.

GA: I'm very honored to be interviewed by you Veronica.

VP: Your presidency appears to be in crisis, and therefore the country seems to be at a crossroads. How do you intend to handle the situation?

GA: Well Veronica I'm looking forward to the constitutional processes of due process, including the...my own rights as an accused. But this crisis that we are undergoing is a symptom of what is really ailing our Philippine society. It's as if we are two Philippines; two countries with one name: Philippines. There is the economic side of it, which after the many reforms that have taken place over the last many years is now poised for a takeoff and our stock market is showing it. But then there is the other Philippines which is our political system, which has deteriorated so much over the years that it is really now a broken system and needs to be changed.

VP: But Madam President, what is your role? You are facing impeachment proceedings. Opposition congressmen accuse you of four impeachable charges.

GA: Well I can say that I have not done any culpable violation of the constitution. I can say that I won the last elections; the exit surveys all said it; the surveys even before the election said it; the one hundred foreign observers said the elections were credible. Even the bishops when they reviewed the vote counting in their own dioceses said that the outcome was not different from what they saw on the ground and even the National Movement for Free Election said so. So I did not steal the election and I have not also committed any culpable violation of the constitution. Having said that, I am submitting myself to the due process with all my rights as an accused of course that I am going to avail of, but in the meantime I have to keep working on the economy and most of all I have to keep working on the major political changes that must be done if we are to avoid, for the next generation in the years to come, the crises that keep happening in our country.

VP: So do you welcome the impeachment proceedings? Will you cooperate with them?

GA: Well of course I would rather not have impeachment proceedings because it disturbs the work that I need to do. But it's there, it's part of our laws, and I will of course submit myself to it. But I will also of course use all my rights as an accused.

VP: The opposition says that it would rather not carry out the impeachment proceedings, that it would rather you resign. Do you believe that you will complete your term?

GA: Well I do have a term, and as I said I have not committed any culpable violation of the constitution, and I won the election. All the credible watchdog organizations have said so.

VP: You've talked about constitutional change. Why are you launching such a great initiative at this time of crisis?

GA: I said that even during my campaign: I was the only presidential candidate in 2004, who advocated for constitutional change. And even last year in my State of the Nation address to congress that in this particular session, the first session last year, we must work on the economic reforms that have been so long overdue. And after we've done the economic reforms, next year we will begin the great debate on charter change. So I am on schedule. And I don't want any political crisis to disturb that schedule.

VP: But the fact is it is happening right on the same day that these impeachment proceedings were launched, you launched this dramatic initiative. There are those who say it's a diversionary tactic, that it might even provide you what they're calling a "graceful exit" in a transition period. What do you say to those claims?

GA: I just want to remind them that I was advocating this in the campaign, that it's in my medium term plan, that last year I said we would do it this year. So I'm complying with what I said we would do. I have been consistent.

VP: The plan introduces a unicameral parliamentary federal system as I understand it...

GA: It introduces a parliamentary and federal system. I am silent about other details because there has to be a debate. I have said that the parliamentary system, where you have a fusion of the head of government and the legislature, is much more efficient for passing legislation and for executing the legislation.

VP: But how can you push it through given these relentless questions over your conduct, over your family's conduct even?

GA: Well as far as my family's conduct is concerned, our family has decided that my husband would go abroad, my son would go abroad, and whatever allegations against them have been submitted to the ombudsman, who is constitutionally independent of me, and who has...and who has a very high credibility. Now as far as the accusations against me are concerned, as I said they have been flying high, wide and handsome: trial by publicity, black propaganda, no chance for me to defend myself. But I hope now that there is due process and I can use my rights as an accused, I hope that the system will be fairer for me.

VP: I guess what I'm trying to get at is, is there a problem? Do you recognize that there is a problem pushing through your economic programs while all of this has gone through?

GA: The economic programs Veronica are by and large done and that's the reason why the market is quite good, because the analysts and investors are expecting a takeoff. The drag on the takeoff is the excessive politicking and the other evils that have arisen with regard to the degenerated political system.

VP: Irrespective of the political system, one of the issues that triggered this crisis is the emergence of wiretapped conversations given to the public that appear to show you speaking, in what could be interpreted as a compromising manner, to an election official. What were those tapes?

GA: Well first of all let me say, how can a president be wiretapped? Isn't that a symptom of a rotten political system? In all the things I've gone through as a politician, I have seen that in this system it is really very difficult to make any headway without being somehow tainted. And let me say, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."

VP: But was that indeed your voice on the tapes? And if the elections were held today, do you think you would win? Would you handle them differently?

GA: Veronica can I say again that because I am a defendant in a case, you know that time when I said I did talk to an election official during the canvassing after the counting - that was against my legal advisor. So may I have the permission now to follow my legal advisor, especially since the impeachment process has started?

VP: Can you answer though...

GA: Therefore I cannot...therefore I cannot answer those questions.

VP: You don't think you would handle them differently?

GA: I...you know Veronica in this system, how you find out information, our election process is not even automated. What is...but why is it not automated? Again, all of these things, if you add them all up there are so many things so wrong with our political system that you have to change the system itself.

VP: In the midst of all this, you and your family had to make a difficult decision. Your husband left the country, why?

GA: In order to reduce the political intrigue, and therefore let me run the country with less distraction. It's a difficult decision for the family, but it is our contribution. It is our family's contribution to be able to make me serve in a better way. And again, if you have a system where the family has to go abroad so that a president can govern? It's...again, in fact I'm not saying that he's...I'm not saying he's guilty, I don't think he is, but nonetheless we have to pass on the charges to the independent ombudsman and he has to leave in order to reduce the political intrigue, and reduce the distractions to my governance.

VP: Let's take a break at this point. You're watching a very special edition of TalkAsia here on CNN. When we come back we'll continue our conversation with the Philippine President, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Block B:

VP: The military, Madam President, has been incredibly important in times of change in the Philippines. Are you concerned that the generals might come out of the barracks again?

GA: I don't think so Veronica. The military is very constitutionalist and I have my faith in them and in the cooler heads of the people. That no matter how unhappy they may be about the prevailing situation, that they will...they will not take things into their own hands the way it happened in EDSA I and even in EDSA II. You know, EDSA I was celebrated by the world, but it was followed by nine coups d'etat, so it did not really strengthen our political system. EDSA II was just tolerated by the world, and look at what's happening to me now four years after EDSA II. The world will not tolerate EDSA III, and neither will the people want to have another EDSA III, and neither will the military want to have another EDSA III. So I have faith in the military's adherence to the constitution and the cooler heads and practicality of our people. Those coups d'etat must be a thing of the past, that was a sorry part of our Philippine history and that should not happen again.

VP: This is not something though that you can reform for example, with constitutional change. So how can you deal with a recalcitrant military, persuade them in the middle of a political crisis.

GA: But they are not recalcitrant, they are very constitutionalist. It is the civilian part of the politics that is very, very bad, and we have to change that.

VP: Let's talk then a little about your leadership, your style of leadership, the personal challenges that you face. Forbes magazine has just named you as the fourth most powerful woman in the world. Do you find that being a woman has at all counted against you?

GA: Yes it has counted against me (VP: Particularly in a macho society...) Yes, that's right, that's right. (VP: How so?) Well I think that's one subliminal reason why the...my opposition and my opponents think I'm very easy picking, because women are supposed to be weaker, and sometimes they marvel at my staying power. Nonetheless, even if that is so it's very important, I am here in this position so it's very important for me to do my job, and I do not let myself be distracted by the political noise. I think it's more than noise, all the political muckraking. Through all that I still am focused on what needs to be done. I am very fortunate that the economic team that I have put in place is very much accepted by the market. Each time I announce a new economic manager the market goes up. And having now put in place this very good team, what I've done is that I've left the day to day affairs of governance to them, so that I can concentrate now on the political changes. Because as I said the economy is ready for takeoff, we've done the major reforms, now what is left is to follow them through and that can be done by the economic managers. But the task of political change is even going to be more difficult than the task of economic change.

VP: So in the current context, how do you persuade an ordinary jeepney driver, an ordinary person on the street that what are painful fiscal measures, are in their interests?

GA: It's really very difficult. And when you have a...you know, when you have all of these attacks on you, on your person, quadruple hearsay, witnesses whose credibility is low but there is no system of impuning their credibility, it's really very, very difficult. And all I can hope is that, as I tried to explain to them little by little, all I can hope is that in time they will see that these difficult measures were meant to make their lives better and especially the lives of their children better. That these difficult measures are intended so that they will not pass on their debts, our debts, to our children and grandchildren.

VP: Do you think constitutional reform, your vision of how the reform should happen, will attract foreign investors back to the Philippines?

GA: Well if it's going to fix the rottenness of the system, yes, because the system has become so rotten. And also practically speaking, if we're able to look at the provisions in the constitution that are still part of the 20th century and move to the 21st century, yes it will encourage investments.

VP: Let's pause for a break. When we come back we'll be discussing the Philippine's role in the global war on terrorism with Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Stay with us.

Block C:

VP: Of great international interest is the Philippines role in the war on terrorism. In the past the Philippines has been criticized for being a kind of weak link in the region. How distracting is the current crisis to your plans, to deny the Philippines as a haven for terrorists?

GA: I don't think we're a weak link; we have been in fact praised for our gains in the war against terrorism. President Bush, in his address at the US National Defense University, included the Philippines in a short list of countries that had been very, very good partners in the war against terrorism. We have neutralized most of the terrorists, the remnants of the Jemaah Islamiah and Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines are just, you know they're just...really quite decimated. And our intelligence is very good, and we really have put in jail and convicted many of the known terrorists or neutralized them or they've gotten killed in battles. So we have a very good alliance with our neighbors and we have a very good alliance with the United States.

VP: Let me follow up on that, talks with the MILF have been suspended in Kuala Lumpur, when will they resume?

GA: Oh actually it's not that they're suspended, because the technical, the technical committees continue to work together and the back channeling continues. Let me say Veronica that 80 percent of the talks have already been completed, including the most contentious portion, which is the issue of ancestral domain. So the remaining 20 percent is about governance and that is much, much easier to resolve than the issue of ancestral domain. And besides that, there is peace on the ground in Mindanao except for the running after the Jemaah Islamiah and Abu Sayyaf. And I'm very, very happy that as part of our peace talks, the MILF have been helping us to neutralize these terrorist groups. And that's a very, very...I think that's a very, very big step forward in our peace process. The peace process with the MILF has never gone as far as it has gone now.

VP: You're very involved in many different aspects of what the government does. There are those who say that you have a tendency to micromanage, and that is something that may work against you, or may have already worked against you. What do you think about that?

GA: Well, I think it was because for awhile last August, it looked like the economic reforms were not going to push through. So I had to take a very strong hand to get them done. And they got done; they got done in time -- the first session of congress. I paid a lot of political capital for that, including the charges of micromanaging, which is why now that I have a good economic team and the reforms have already been enacted, now as I said I can leave the day to day governance to my economic team and I can proceed now to starting and guiding the great debate on constitutional change. And so I'm going to engage congress, civil society and the local governments who believe that there should be charter changes so that they can give inputs to congress on what needs to be done.

VP: What do you see for the future of the Philippines? What would you like to be said about your contribution to the Philippines in years to come?

GA: Well I would like it to be said that I finished the last phase of the economic reforms that needed to be done so that we don't pass our debts on to our children and we can sustain our growth. And that I was able to finally change the system so that it could sustain, and not drag down our economic growth, and we could have a more mature system for our children and the generations to come.

VP: You intend constitutional change to be your legacy to the Philippines.

GA: Yes I would like that very much to be aside from the economic reforms. I think we've done economic reforms, this was the last phase that was needed, we did it the first year. Now we have to begin the political reforms and I would like to be remembered for those two kinds of changes. But the political reforms must be done now or our country will keep staying in the quagmire in spite of the economic breakthroughs.

VP: We thank you very much indeed for your time. We've been speaking with Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in Malacanang Palace.

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