- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 31, 2002

MANILA (AP) Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has decided against running for another term next year, saying she is frustrated with political infighting and her candidacy would make it harder to solve the nation's economic problems.
Mrs. Arroyo, 55, took office in January 2001 after mass protests forced her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, to flee the presidential palace. She has faced a series of crises while trying to revive the sagging economy.
"The poison in the air is so pervasive," she said. "If this would be the atmosphere under which I would rule, how would I chart the country toward a bright future?"
Mrs. Arroyo said she will devote her final 18 months in office to trying to create more jobs and encouraging business activity.
"If we achieve these, my successor as president will be in a good position to lead the Philippines through the next decisive steps toward a strong modern society," she said.
Mrs. Arroyo, the daughter of a former president, has struggled in her two years in office to introduce reforms, restore order and foster development in a nation struggling with Muslim separatists, crime and turbulent politics.
She became one of the first Asian leaders to support the U.S.-led war against terror, allowing American troops to enter the country to train troops fighting the Abu Sayyaf, a militant Islamist group that authorities say is loosely affiliated with Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network.
Her announcement comes amid growing political concerns about the national budget deficit and increased lawlessness.
The economy was the most daunting challenge facing Mrs. Arroyo when she was sworn in two years ago: 40 percent of the country's population of 76 million were living below the poverty line, and unemployment was above 11 percent.
Her administration has made little progress at improving the economy and has run up a record national debt of $3.5 billion in the first 10 months of this year. The government blames the debt in part on inefficient and corrupt tax collectors.
Mrs. Arroyo's spokesman, Rigoberto Tiglao, said her decision will make it easier to propose more radical steps to improve the economy.

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