Philippine leader undergoing baptism of fire


MANILA, AFP

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo is undergoing a baptism of fire as her young government bounces from one crisis to another, with the abduction of tourists by Muslim guerrillas just the latest headache, analysts said Wednesday.

In the four months since she unexpectedly assumed office in late January, the 54-year-old economist has sent her predecessor to jail, cracked down on his rioting supporters, dealt with an economic slowdown, and now faces a recurrent kidnapping nightmare.

A petite, privileged daughter of a former president who admits to only overcoming her inferiority complex over her height after she hit middle-age, Arroyo has since talked tough and wielded the big stick.

Rejecting any ransom payments, she has instead placed a two-million-dollar bounty on the heads of the kidnappers. “Force against force. Weapons against weapons. That is the challenge you have laid before me. I will make your day.”

She said the hostage crisis could scare away investors and tourists and torpedo her plans to bring economic relief to her 76 million countrymen, more than a third of whom wallow in poverty.

What is important is, “we must address this decisively to show the world that we can protect our citizens, our visitors and our investors,” said Arroyo, who is widely believed will seek a full, six-year term in the next presidential election in May 2004.

“As things are turning out, events are forcing her to be more resolute” than she has previously showed herself to be capable of, University of the Philippines political science professor Amado Mendoza told AFP.

“Public opinion is with her,” he said, adding the public would probably accept the possibility that not all the hostages would be rescued.

“The people will judge her on the basis of the strength of her political will,” columnist Jess Sison wrote in the Malaya newspaper.