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Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Monday, January 22, 2001

A woman named
Gloria takes over

THIS weekend, not one but two politicians took their respective oaths of office and became presidents of their nations.

Most of the attention in this state and country focused eastward on Washington, D.C., and the inauguration festivities of George W. Bush.

I was more interested in what was happening to the west in Manila.

That's because, in September 1998, I was lucky enough to interview Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was then three months into her term as vice president of the Philippines.

She was visiting Oahu to promote investment in her country and to make a speech sponsored by the Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii at the Ala Moana Hotel.

What I didn't know then, when we shook hands and chatted for an hour, was that I was interacting with the next leader of her homeland.

And Macapagal-Arroyo didn't even have to run for the job when the incumbent's six-year term was officially up in 2004.

Joseph "Erap" Estrada was stripped of the presidency this weekend after losing the support of the military, most of his cabinet members and millions of Filipinos incensed by charges that he had taken gambling kickbacks.

When he first assumed office three years ago, Estrada was unbelievably popular with the masses. He was a former tough-guy movie star and a self-effacing charmer.

Yet he was clearly looked down upon by the intellectual elite, a circle to whom Macapagal-Arroyo certainly belonged.

With lofty political aspirations of her own, the former classmate of Bill Clinton at Georgetown University was also a realist.

So the economist, educator, journalist and senator -- realizing that she would be unable to defeat Estrada -- begrudgingly ran for the vice presidency instead.

During our interview, I tried to get the petite but feisty No. 2 of the Philippines to tell me what she REALLY thought of the big guy, to no avail. She was much too diplomatic.

Question: When you were running for president, you said some candidates have mass appeal but lack competence. Were you referring to Joseph Estrada?

Answer: That was in the past. What I said while campaigning is not important now.

Question: But do you respect President Estrada, even though as vice president he had the reputation of being the Dan Quayle of the Philippines?

Answer: Of course, I respect him. You have to respect someone who can get 10 million votes.

Question: Is it true that your heart broke when Manila's outspoken archbishop, Cardinal Jaime Sin, said you were unfit to be president because you were too young and because you were a woman?

Answer: As you can see, my heart is not broken and it is still beating. I was disappointed that he would say something like that, but he has the right to an opinion.

Question: Is it correct to assume that you will not rock the boat in your six-year term as vice president to better your chances of being elected president in 2004?

Answer: Absolutely not. That is nonsense. I will do whatever is right and necessary to fulfill my job responsibilities.

Starting this week, her job responsibilities have elevated to that of president of the Philippines.

You go, Gloria. Aloha and the best of luck.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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