Organizer and Chair: David Timberman, Management Systems International, USA
Discussants: Gwendolyn Bevis, Management Systems International, USA; Steven Rood, The Asia Foundation Philippines, USA
Assuming Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (“GMA”) leaves office next June, her Presidency will be the second longest, after that of Ferdinand Marcos. She came into office in 2001 when Joseph Estrada was forced to resign and GMA, his Vice President, was elevated to the presidency. In 2005 she ran for and was elected President, but her victory – and her legitimacy -- were marred by credible allegations that she was complicit in efforts to manipulate the vote count.
Her tenure has been marked by both notable economic progress and considerable political controversy. Over the last five years the Philippines has posted higher rates of economic growth and achieved greater fiscal stability. It has avoided the worst of the global economic slowdown, but its resilience is due in large part to remittances from overseas workers.
At the same time, politics and governance have been marked by controversy and divisiveness:
• GMA's apparent efforts to manipulate the 2005 election led to a break with many civil society leaders who had once embraced her as well as recurring unsuccessful efforts to impeach her.
• Despite this, she has cobbled together a formidable political machine and curried favor with military leaders. This has led to an erosion of checks and balances on the executive and worrisome questions about the role of the military.
• Politics have remained highly partisan and divisive.
• Negotiations to end the armed struggle in Muslim Mindanao proceeded in fits and starts and have faltered again.
Because of its length and tenor, would seem that the GMA presidency has had an important influence on the structure and character of Philippine politics and governance. But in what ways and with what consequences? This roundtable will assess notable aspects of the GMA presidency, identify significant changes that have occurred in the Philippine polity during her presidency, and suggest what the implications might be for the future. In doing so, the roundtable will provide a context for better understanding the May 2010 presidential and Congressional elections.
Themes explored by the roundtable will include:
• The use and abuse of presidential power.
• Continuing contestation over the structure of the Philippine state and political system.
• The roles of political parties, the military and civil society.
• The economic determinants of political power.
• The quality and resiliency of democratic institutions and norms in the Philippines.
Specific presentations will include:
• GMA's creative use of the President's power (including presidential control over the national budget) to strengthen her political position -- and responses to it by Congress and civil society.
• The continuing battle over constitutional change and the need to alter the nature of the Philippine state and politics.
• The changing nature of elite and mass (and/or local) politics.