Monday, July 27, 2009

Philippines' Arroyo to defend legacy amid protests

MANILA, Philippines – President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was expected to defend her spotty achievements during her final state of the nation address Monday against a backdrop of widespread protests that have dogged her turbulent 8 1/2-year rule in the Philippines.

The 62-year-old U.S.-trained economist, who has survived four coup attempts and four impeachment bids since 2001, has been accused by opposition politicians of maneuvering to extend her term, which ends next year.

Her aides deny the claim, saying her speech in Congress will focus on efforts to protect the country's economy from the global financial meltdown through a 10-point program promising a balanced budget, education for all, automated elections, improved infrastructure and peace with Muslim and communist rebels.

Such achievements have eluded the Philippines since Arroyo took power in 2001 in a second "people power" revolt that ousted President Joseph Estrada on corruption charges. She won her own six-year term in 2004, but it was put in doubt when allegations surfaced that she conspired to rig the vote.

Arroyo has denied any wrongdoing, but her ratings plummeted, street protests surged, restive military officers plotted to overthrow her, opposition lawmakers repeatedly initiated impeachment proceedings against her and a dozen Cabinet members resigned in protest.

But she weathered the crises, shielded from impeachment by a loyal majority in the House of Representatives and from coup attempts by faithful generals.

Prominent left-wing group Bayan said it expected up to 15,000 protesters near Congress, where police set up container vans and barbed wire to keep them at bay.

Left-wing Rep. Satur Ocampo said he and several other lawmakers will boycott Arroyo's speech and instead join protests to call for her to step down when her terms ends in June.

Ocampo said he expected Arroyo to paint a "rosy picture" of her tumultuous years in power despite the crushing poverty and high unemployment that plague the country.

About a third of the population of 90 million live on less than $2 a day, and about 3,000 Filipinos leave every day seeking jobs abroad, joining about 10 million overseas workers whose remittances keep the economy afloat.

Presidential spokesman Cerge Remonde said Arroyo will focus on her economic accomplishments, including her success in providing education to the poor and exceeding a promise to provide a million jobs a year since 2001.

He described a string of corruption allegations against Arroyo as "a lie repeated a hundred times."

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