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Politics

Philippines' Gloria Arroyo makes comeback as House speaker

Former president becomes first female leader of Congress

MANILA -- Former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo staged a major political comeback on Monday, winning election as speaker of the House of Representatives -- the No. 4 position in government. 

Arroyo stepped down as president in 2010. She was later detained on corruption charges and released in 2016. Her election on Monday makes her the first woman House speaker.

A close ally of President Rodrigo Duterte, Arroyo replaces Pantaleon Alvarez, Duterte's longtime friend and his personal choice for the post after winning the presidency in May 2016.

Arroyo received 184 votes, or 63% of the House's total membership, in a chaotic takeover of the chamber's leadership that extended into Monday night and involved two oath-takings. 

Arroyo was first sworn in Monday afternoon, but Alvarez continued to function as speaker. For example, he received Duterte when the president arrived to give his third state of the nation address before a joint session of Congress.

The impasse delayed Duterte's speech for more than an hour, prompting the president to intervene and speak individually to Arroyo and Alvarez, ABS-CBN reported.

Alvarez then opened the joint session on behalf of the House of Representatives, a mandate held by the speaker. Duterte also addressed him as speaker.

The legislators reconvened Monday night, paving the way for Arroyo's election and second oath-taking.

Local media reported that Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte Carpio, Duterte's daughter who has emerged as a national political force, campaigned to unseat Alvarez. Back in February, she said Alvarez "messed with the wrong girl" when he allegedly called the president's daughter, who had formed her own regional political party, part of the opposition.

Arroyo was president from 2001 until 2010. She is currently serving her third and last term as representative of her congressional district in Pampanga Province.

In 2001, the then vice president was sworn in as president after a popular revolt triggered the ouster of Joseph Estrada, now the mayor of Manila. In 2004, Arroyo won a full six-year term, but her tenure was rocked by allegations of corruption and rigging elections.

Former President Benigno Aquino's government, which launched a massive anti-corruption drive, arrested Arroyo in 2011 on the election fraud allegations, and in 2012 on plunder charges. Arroyo remained under detention in the hospital because of a spine-related illness until the Supreme Court dismissed her plunder case in July 2016.

Arroyo is assuming the congressional leadership during a potentially volatile time for the Philippines as a president who is losing some of his popularity chases his goal of amending the constitution.

During his address, Duterte made a pitch for amending the constitution to allow for shifting to a federal form of government, an initiative both Arroyo and Alvarez supported.

Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy in New York, said the leadership change will have a limited impact on Duterte. However, Arroyo, an economist by training, could help advance Duterte's economic reforms.

"Arroyo may be slightly more proactive in pushing forward changes to foreign direct investment restrictions as part of Duterte's constitutional reform agenda," it said. 

"Both Alvarez and Arroyo are staunch political supporters of Duterte and the House would effectively remain a rubber-stamp parliament under the leadership of either of them," it added.

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