- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2001

MANILA Newly installed President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who went to Georgetown University with Bill Clinton and begins each day by reading the Bible, has reason to believe she has God on her side.
That at least is the hope of her supporters, thousands of whom joined a bishop on Sunday in a ritual laying on of hands and an exorcism meant to protect her from her enemies of whom she will find no shortage.
The first person she needs protection against may be ousted President Joseph "Erap" Estrada, who left office in disgrace on Saturday after the military and his own Cabinet deserted him in the face of overwhelming evidence of massive graft.
Officials announced yesterday that he, his wife, son and 21 other persons were forbidden from leaving the country pending an investigation on as many as six possible criminal charges.
However, the stock market, which soared Monday on the news of his resignation, dipped again yesterday with the release of a letter written on Saturday in which Mr. Estrada said he was stepping aside only temporarily, apparently laying the legal ground for a future claim to office.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo, an economist and experienced legislator, is moving ahead with her Cabinet appointments in an effort to create an air of efficiency and normalcy.
She also is trying to quell talk that she appeared too eager for the ouster of Mr. Estrada, as when she declared herself "commander in chief" of the armed forces hours before the president stepped down.
She will heed the advice of her father, former President Diosdado Macapagal, who taught her many years ago to "respect the bureaucracy [and] civil service," she said upon her arrival at Malacanang Palace.
Guards there had laid out a red carpet for her arrival.
She also explained her "daily habits," which include beginning each morning with a Bible reading.
The Catholic Church, which commands enormous respect in Asia's only majority-Christian country, has rallied behind her with a national broadcast on Sunday of a fire-and-brimstone speech in her support. Thousands of devotees joined in a mass laying-on-of-hands to christen her rule.
Flanked by banners proclaiming "Jesus is Lord," Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo stood with eyes closed while Bishop Eddie Villaneuva led thousands of devotees in stretching out their hands to bless her rule.
The bishop asked God to "protect her against the devil and against her enemies" and declared that her presidency had "the full support of heaven."
The more immediate issue for the nation's politicians and international investors will be whether her rule has the support of the constitution. While the change of power was endorsed on Saturday by the Supreme Court, questions remain because the military withdrew its support from the president before he threw in the towel.
The British Broadcasting Corp., for example, described the events first as a "bloodless military coup" and later as a "fairy-tale coup." The local media are calling her an "installed president."
Hours before the inauguration of President Bush in Washington, the U.S. Embassy in Manila issued a statement claiming the transition was "in accordance with democratic and constitutional procedures."
But Rep. Didagen Dilangalen has charged that the Supreme Court acted without a case being filed and has threatened to file impeachment charges against Chief Justice Hilario Davide for administering the presidential oath in violation of the constitution.
Though Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo is backed by Manila's moneyed classes, millions of poor, rural people remain loyal to Mr. Estrada.
"On one side is the victorious political opposition and hundreds of thousands of informed voters. On the other are millions of die-hard and downcast Estrada supporters trying to come to terms with reality," warned the Manila Standard newspaper in an editorial.
Lawyer and columnist Emil P. Jurado said the issue "must be settled once and for all, but fast, since the world is watching us. To have an illegitimate president at this point in time is something we need like a hole in the head."
The new president must also move quickly to establish herself as a battler against corruption, something she is likely to attempt by moving quickly with criminal charges against Mr. Estrada.
The former actor, who won a landslide national election in 1998, is accused of having diverted more than $3.25 million in government funds.
He denied the corruption charges but his impeachment trial ended when prosecutors walked out because they could not examine important bank evidence.
Ombudsman Aniano Desierto said, "We can now proceed with the investigation of the case against him since he could not [previously] be charged before a criminal court."
Under a 1994 law, embezzlement of government money worth more than $1.25 million is punishable by death, though no one has been executed for such a crime.


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