MANILA, Philippines?First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo thought his wife was categorical enough.
?Of course. It?s very clear. She?s stepping down after her term,? the husband of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said after her State of the Nation Address (SONA) Monday.
Boxing pound-for-pound superstar Manny Pacquiao, who received a glowing tribute from Ms Arroyo and rose from his seat to acknowledge it several times, thought so, too. ?Malinaw, na malinaw (It is very clear). Grabe! Bilib ako.?
So did US Ambassador Kristie Kenney: ?I thought she very clearly talked about finishing her term and clearly talked about elections.?
Staunch ally Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago didn?t quite agree.
?She did not state categorically she is not running,? Santiago said. ?She does not admit to anything. She just said I never said I would like to extend my term.?
But the feisty former judge said there was nothing to worry about speculation that the Constitution was about to be changed and a parliamentary system adopted to pave the way for Ms Arroyo?s continued stay in power as her critics fear.
Charter change (Cha-cha) will not happen, Santiago said, not without the Senate?s participation and the upper chamber has said it would not go along with the lower chamber dominated by Arroyo allies.
Santiago said the President was keeping her options open and did not want to pander to her critics.
?Critics wanted her to say categorically that she would step down in 2010 and she did not oblige them,? she said.
?Crooks are still with us?
While she believes Ms Arroyo is the most hardworking president, Santiago thinks the President has failed to stem corruption.
?The crooks are still with us. In fact, they are right here in Congress,? she said, adding Ms Arroyo could have told these people to shape up.
Akbayan party-list Rep. Risa Hontiveros said she was disappointed that Congress had turned into a ?clapping machine.?
?She only said she would not be President in 2010, but she did not categorically say that she would let go of power. So we could ask, what does that mean, after president she would be prime minister?? Hontiveros asked.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teodoro Casiño said: ?She made a bad joke about stepping down from the podium, but not from the presidency. This plus the push for Cha-cha makes us very doubtful about her true intentions.?
Casiño was among leftist representatives who boycotted the event. In his text message, he said: ?It is not the job of a representative of the people to listen to a cheater, a liar, a thief and a fascist... There are too many con men in Congress, we don?t need to listen to another one.?
?It sounded like goodbye?
?Ms Arroyo?s political maneuvers ... to perpetuate herself in power will surely face the people?s wrath,? said Anakpawis party-list Rep. Rafael Mariano, who also snubbed the speech.
Opposition Rep. Roilo Golez of Parañaque, Ms Arroyo?s former national security adviser, said the President?s statement ?may not be as categorical as some people would want it, but it sounded like goodbye.?
Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno said Ms Arroyo?s speech was ?good.?
?I think she was able to relay all the achievements of her administration. That?s fair enough,? Puno said. But, he added, ?I would not like to make a political judgment of her administration.?
Former President Fidel Ramos gave a cryptic reply when asked about the speech as he was leaving the Batasan complex: ?It took almost one hour.?
For Sen. Loren Legarda: ?The assurance was clear that she would go down because we are there in the Senate and we would watch the stepping down from office of all those who were elected.?
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., who like most senators stayed away from the event, said that by not clearing the air on term extension Ms Arroyo heightened ?tensions among people and the instability of the nation.?
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano said the speech was ?deliberately vague or silent on issues of Charter change, not extending her term, or when she is stepping down.?
Said another presidential hopeful, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro: ?It was clear to all of us that the Constitution would be followed.?
Nueva Ecija Rep. Eduardo Nonato Joson was unimpressed: ?She?s a lame-duck President trying to be a strong President till the last second of her term. She wants to go down fighting or work for Cha-cha through Congress.?
All about hubris
Gilbert Remulla, spokesperson of the Nacionalista Party, said Ms Arroyo?s speech was ?all about hubris and taunting.?
Sen. Pia Cayetano said: ?I was wondering why she was very quiet about the issue of corruption, especially those that involved some of her allies in the government whose cases are pending with the Office of the Ombudsman ... If our President cannot stand up and make a statement against corrupt practices in the country, then there is a problem.?
Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo said he wanted to hear not only the President?s achievements but also her shortcomings. ?There are hundreds of people who stand with her as co-achievers ... many other people are also responsible for these failures.?
Lagdameo said the tight security enforced during the affair gave ?a message of fear and insecurity.?
Pete Troilo, analyst at Pacific Strategies and Assessments, said Ms Arroyo was not ?very statesman-like, eloquent or straightforward with her political ambitions and plans.?
?If Mrs. Arroyo was dedicated to the country, as she repeatedly said, then revealing her political ambition and plans would certainly be beneficial,? he said.
?With Arroyo revealing her plans, that would certainly assist business confidence and this conception that there will be regime change and everyone could prepare themselves for that. Certainly, it did not alleviate the uncertainty around 2010,? Troilo said.
Numbers don?t fit
Said business analyst Peter Wallace: ?What I found strange was that some of the numbers she quoted don?t fit with the numbers that I have, particularly on poverty and unemployment.
?My numbers show that there has been an increase in the number of people in poverty and an increase in the number of people without a job between 2000 and 2008. Whereas she says she has actually reduced those numbers,? Wallace added.
?Overall, I think it was reassuring that she did seem to indicate fairly strongly that she intends to finish her term and that?s as much as she?s going to do, that she will step down then. And I think that was a good message that she carried across and I don?t think anybody expects her to step down before then.?
No end to controversy
Benito Lim, political science professor at the Ateneo de Manila University, said: ?All she needed from the very start was to come out with a categorical statement that she is not interested in extending her term and that she has no ambition of running for any other public office, she will step down and she will retire.
?It will not stop the controversy and the suspicion that she intends to extend her term. There should be a categorical statement giving no cause for misinterpretation, it should be clear,? Lim added. With reports from Philip C. Tubeza, Leila B. Salaverria, Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., Michael Lim Ubac, Edson C. Tandoc Jr., Cathy Yamsuan, Allison W. Lopez, Cynthia D. Balana, Dona Z. Pazzibugan, Associated Press, Reuters