President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo

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December 2000. She wants to emulate two former presidents. She looks up to his father, the late President Diosdado Macapagal for his integrity. She admires former President Corazon Aquino for becoming the first woman to run Malacañang. Today, she believes she is prepared to follow their footsteps.

"I will follow my father's footsteps by doing what is right, and God will take care of the rest. My father is my role model. My living role model is Cory Aquino. I am prepared," Vice-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo told the prestigious magazine Asiaweek.

At 53, Arroyo prepares to takeover the presidency, should incumbent President Joseph Estrada give in to the demands that he leave his post. Asked how soon Estrada should resign, she said: "As soon as possible. If he could resign now, all the better."

Various sectors of Philippine society are clamoring for the resignation of President Estrada over allegations that he accepted bribe money from operators of jueteng, an illegal gambling game. Estrada denied this, and blamed his political opponents for insinuating the moves to unseat him.

Arroyo who was a part of the Estrada Cabinet left the administration to lead the Opposition party. The Constitution provides that she, as vice president, will assume the presidency should Estrada resign or be impeached.

She argues that President Estrada should leave Malacañang soon to save the failing economy. When asked if things would improve if she would replace Estrada, Arroyo said: "Yes. Things are so bad now."

"Leadership by example, transparency, a good work ethic and a dignified lifestyle," Arroyo said of the kind of government she intends to lead. "I'll just have to emulate my father (President Diosdado Macapagal, who served from 1961-1965). During his time, the Philippines was second only to Japan in Asia."

Arroyo was born to the late President Macapagal and the late Dr. Evangelina Macaraeg on April 5, 1947. She spent her childhood years with her maternal grandmother in Iligan City. Described by her teachers as a bright student, she graduated as high school valedictorian from Assumption Convent. For two years, she was in the dean's list at Georgetown University where she met US President Bill Clinton as a classmate. At her sophomore year at the American university, she went back to the Philippines to marry Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo, now a successful businessman.

In Manila, she pursued a degree in commerce at Assumption College where she graduated as magna cum laude. She earned a Master's Degree in Commerce at the Ateneo de Manila University and went on to complete a Ph.D. in Economics at the University of the Philippines.

After completing her studies, she taught Economics subjects at Assumption College, Ateneo de Manila, and U.P. She also served as a columnist at the now defunct Manila Chronicle. Former President Aquino assigned her as an assistant secretary at the Department of Trade and Industry. In 1992, she ran for public office and won a seat in the 24-man Philippine Senate. That was the start of her thriving political career.

In 1995, she sought reelection and topped all senatorial winners by garnering more than 16 million votes. She was elected vice-president in the 1998 elections, the same time Estrada won the presidency. President Estrada eventually designated her as secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

She remained a part of the Estrada administration until October this year, when Ilocos Sur Governor Luis Chavit Singson implicated President Estrada in the jueteng scam. But Arroyo herself was also linked to jueteng operators, particularly Bong Pineda, the husband of Lubao, Pampanga Mayor Lilia Pineda.

Arroyo denied the allegations. She admitted though that she stood as a godmother during the baptism of one of Pineda's children. "It was out of a Christian duty that I became a godmother — one of several — during a baptism of one of his children. I've consulted Cardinal Jaime Sin on this, and he told me that the sin of the father is not the sin of the child," she said.

When asked of her stand on gambling, Arroyo said: "I follow the stand of the Church on almost all of the political issues with a moral dimension. So I view gambling as a social evil."

Arroyo said the economic and political turmoil in the country would continue until President Estrada leaves Malacañang. But senators of the majority party disagree. Senator Juan Ponce Enrile said the present economic problem would persist even under an Arroyo administration, adding that it was a crisis of regional proportion affecting the whole of Asia.

For Arroyo, however, the key to ending the problem is the change in leadership and political system. "Our political system needs changing. It needs to move away from personalities and patronage to a system of party programs and consultation with the people. We also need to improve moral standards in the government and Philippines' society," she said.

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