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Philippines: Reform moves back to square one

he two administrations that succeeded that of Ferdinand Marcos put the Philippines on the road to economic recovery and did their best to wipe out cronyism and corruption. The recently ousted Estrada regime went a long way to reversing their achievements. Maggie Ford reports on the chances of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo restoring reform and removing some of the deep-seated inequalities among Filipinos

The swearing in on January 20 of former vice-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as president of the Philippines was the culmination of a long period of pressure from the financial and political elite for the ousting of president Joseph "Erap" Estrada. People power only played its part at the very end. For weeks on end, there was not a student on the streets or a businessman in a coffee shop in central Manila. The entire nation sat transfixed in front of TV sets as the removal of Estrada ratcheted into high gear at his impeachment trial in parliament.

In a nation renowned for its pioneering public demonstrations, the front-line troops who were revealing wrongdoing and calling for Estrada's resignation were not ordinary citizens, or the army, but an array of financial technocrats who had held the highest offices in the land. Finance ministers, stock market chairmen, bankers, regulators, compliance officers and business leaders united in condemnation of a regime that threatened the viability not only of their businesses but of the whole economy.

The anger at the president's behaviour in Manila's Makati financial district was palpable. Well placed in 1997 to emerge as a survivor from the Asian financial crisis that had struck its neighbours hard, the Philippines squandered that opportunity.

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