MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte paid tribute to former president and speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, calling her an icon in politics and the epitome of strong political will.
“Perhaps no other chief executive in our history comes close to president Arroyo’s example of carrying out decisive actions even if such actions would prove to be unpopular,” Duterte said in a speech at The Manila Hotel on Tuesday night during an appreciation dinner hosted by Arroyo’s colleagues in the 17th Congress.
The event was also attended by Arroyo’s closest allies and former members of her Cabinet.
“I have always held president Arroyo in high esteem for her inspiring and disciplined leadership, not only for my presidency… but the rest of the public as well,” Duterte said.
Arroyo imposed martial law in Maguindanao on Dec. 4, 2009 through Proclamation No. 1959 and also suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. It was lifted nine days later on Dec. 13.
For her part, Arroyo said she regarded Duterte as her friend, who did not abandon her during the dark times in her political life.
“Most of all, I thank you that when you became President, you provided the atmosphere in which the Court had the freedom to acquit me of the trumped-up charges my successor and your predecessor filed against me, so that the Court voted 14-1 in my favor, including half of those who were appointed by my accuser,” Arroyo said.
Although Duterte admitted that he finds Arroyo difficult to deal with, he said he admired her tough leadership skills.
“All of the – my dealings with my president during my mayorship days eh trabaho lang ho ‘yon (it was just work), ma’am, and I said you are hard to deal with at nagagalit (and gets angry),” Duterte said.
Duterte, who has been facing criticism for alleged extrajudicial killings, said he might have killed for Arroyo even without her ordering him.
Duterte recalled how he and Arroyo talked over the phone even during the wee hours of morning, with Arroyo seeking his advice.
“I was there when you made the decision, one major… crucial… and since you did not follow me, I said,” Duterte added.
At the party, Duterte let his guard down as he sang his favorite songs, including “Ikaw,” “You Raised Me Up,” “Matud Nila,” “Usahay,” “To All The Girls I Loved Before,” “You Fill The World With Love” and “Send in the Clowns.”
Joining Duterte at the VIP table were Arroyo’s husband Jose Miguel, Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez and his wife Yedda Marie, socialite Baby Arenas, Sen. Richard Gordon and Arroyo’s aide Medy Poblador.
“She is a very smart and political genius whose competence, workaholic attitude, track record, integrity and strong decision-making skills helped her earn the respect even of world leaders,” Romualdez said.
Romualdez said Arroyo has been “a provider of hope not only for the success of public officials, but also to ordinary people for them to achieve their goals.”
“Her pro-poor projects like the affordable housing units and conditional cash transfer program for the poorest of the poor benefitted many Filipinos,” he said.
Romualdez’s wife, the Tingog Sinirangan party-list representative, also praised Arroyo.
“Speaker Arroyo is a no-nonsense action lady and very much determined to show concrete and genuine reforms for the benefit of Filipinos,” she said.
Former Malabon vice mayor Jeanne Sandoval, who lost the mayoralty race last May, sat beside Duterte later in the evening.
Renowned violinist Jay Cayuca serenaded the political powerhouse as they enjoyed glasses of wine during the event that lasted past midnight in the grand ballroom of the historic hotel.
“Indeed, her intuitive and hands-on leadership has carried our nation forward, especially during trying times,” Duterte said.
Duterte also talked about how Arroyo’s “extensive experience as a renowned economist and academic was crucial in laying down the foundations of our country’s steady economic growth during her term.”
During Arroyo’s 27-year career in the legislative and executive branches of government, Duterte said she became a major figure and was instrumental in crafting policies that made the country’s economy bullish.
Serving the government in various capacities, Duterte said Arroyo crossed party lines and worked with various sectors to implement legislation that improved persons’ welfare, brought decentralized development to the poor and marginalized constituencies and instituted significant fiscal reforms that have sustained the nation for almost three decades.
A daughter of former president Diosdado Macapagal, Arroyo graduated magna cum laude from Assumption College in 1968. She earned a master’s degree in economics in 1978 from Ateneo de Manila University and a doctorate in economics in 1986 from the University of the Philippines. She also studied economics at Georgetown University in Washington.
In 1992, Arroyo won a seat in the Senate and was reelected in 1995. She was elected vice president in 1998. – Delon Porcalla, Edith Regalado