Economist to the rescue? How Arroyo plans to execute Duterte's agenda

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 16 2018 08:12 PM | Updated as of Aug 16 2018 09:13 PM

Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo takes an oath after assuming the House Speakership during the Third Regular Session of the 17th Congress during President Duterte's State of the Nation Address (SONA), July 23, 2018. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s return to national power, this time as House Speaker, could not have come at a better time for President Rodrigo Duterte. 

Arroyo, a trained economist, has become a potent ally at the House while reshaping the conversations inside the halls of Congress. Now, she is keeping her eye on economic measures as the country grapples with inflation.

“So as you can see, we've been fast tracking the priority legislation. For instance, we've been able to already finish, or ratify, the coco levy bill. We've been able to pass the tariffication bill on third reading. We've been able to pull out the disaster management bill and it's on the floor for interpellation. Even the tax reform got finished already with the sponsorship speech and entering the period of interpellation,” she said in her exclusive interview with ABS-CBN News.

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Arroyo also looks to sink her teeth into universal health care.

Arroyo is also focusing on delivering Duterte’s legislative agenda and accomplish what he set out to do as president while building on what she accomplished. 

“When I entered the presidency, the poverty rate was 39 percent, when I left the presidency, it was 26 percent. The other is that I undertook, well I worked to do fiscal reforms to provide fiscal stability in the economy which is the underpinning for economic growth, that's why I had those painful tax reforms, and as a result of which, we had 38 quarters of uninterrupted growth, and also we had no recession when two-thirds of the world was in recession," she said.

"In other words, I set the fundamentals for future economic growth. Now, going to Pres Duterte, my wish for him is he will be able to achieve the 14 percent poverty rate that he's been hoping for so that, that would mean a reduction of poverty rate from 39 percent to 14 percent in just 20 years,” she added.

Aside from an improved economy, Arroyo hopes to see Duterte leave behind successes in tax reform and the war against drugs. 

"As far as his tax reforms are concerned, the continuation of fiscal reforms, I wish him success and I want to contribute on that success because that's going to be the basis for the next stage of our economic growth, it will provide the infrastructure requirements for the next stage of our economic growth. Thirdly, I wish him success in the war against drugs,” she said.

CLOSENESS WITH DUTERTE

Duterte had been her anti-crime adviser when she was President. The Supreme Court dismissed the plunder case that locked her up when he became President. Just recently, Duterte would say Arroyo asked him to address inflation. 

The signs of closeness were all there. But Arroyo points out, the President had nothing to do with her Speakership. This, even if conventional knowledge among politicians would say that the speaker is in reality the choice of the President. 

“The President's Office has already said that he did not have a role to play,” she said.

But while the President appeared to be out of the picture in this instance, another Duterte may have been in play—if Arroyo’s colleagues are to be believed.

For Arroyo, the leadership change was a confluence of events as she referred to what her colleagues have said about the involvement of the President’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.

“As far as Sara is concerned, well it's been public knowledge for some time about her differences with Speaker Alvarez, and some congressmen say that was taken into account in their decisions. Other congressmen also said there has been a problem brewing for quite some time and it just all played out spontaneously during SONA weekend,” she said.

Congressmen have said off the record that Mayor Duterte led the phone brigade that sealed the deal for Davao del Norte 1st District Rep Pantaleon Alvarez’s ouster.