Outgoing Speaker GMA to House: Harvest seeds we planted during Duterte’s term

Mara Cepeda
Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo trumpets lawmakers' achievements under her one-year term, lauding the 'truly working House' for pushing the President's pet bills

LAST SPEECH. Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo delivers her farewell speech at the Batasang Pambansa on June 4, 2019. Photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Outgoing Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo gave her final marching orders to legislators: those who will continue serving in the next 18th Congress should build on the seeds they planted in the current 17th Congress.

Arroyo, who is on her 3rd and final term as Pampanga 2nd District congresswoman, delivered her farewell speech at the House of Representatives on Tuesday, June 4, the same day the plenary session was conducted for the last time under the 17th Congress.

“In the first 3 years of President [Rodrigo] Duterte’s administration, many good seeds were planted by way of executive decisions, the legislative agenda, strategic foreign engagements, and bold reforms. In the remaining years of his term, we just all need to help in the implementation to harvest the fruits of those seeds within President Duterte’s term,” said Arroyo. 

The former president of 9 years turned 3-term congresswoman has repeatedly said that as Speaker, she was not really concerned about the legacy she would leave behind. Rather, her focus was on ensuring Duterte’s pet bills would be passed under her term. 

Arroyo then praised the House for helping her to do just that, saying a total of 250 local and national bills from the lower chamber were passed into law.

She described the Bangsamoro Organic Law – which established the more independent and powerful Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao – to be “at the forefront of the game-changing legislation that we have helped enact.”

Arroyo also said it was under her leadership that the House passed a “more fiscally acceptable version” of the draft constitution seeking to shift the Philippines to federalism, though this did not fly at the Senate.

Arroyo also cited as achievements of the House the bills on the following:

  • Security of tenure
  • Coconut farmers’ trust fund
  • Rice tariffication
  • Tax Reform for Attracting Better and High-Quality Opportunities 
  • Increases on the taxes imposed on mining, alcohol, tobacco
  • Reform in property valuation, capitol income and financial taxes, and tax amnesty
  • Universal health care
  • National ID system
  • Personal Property Security Act
  • Secondary School Career Guidance Counselling Act
  • First Time Jobseekers Act
  • Department of Human Settlements and Urban DEvelopments
  • Law on work-from-home arrangements
  • National cancer control program
  • Strengthening HIV-AIDS policy
  • Providing for the special protection of children in situations of armed conflict
  • Amending Central Bank Act
  • Institutionalizing energy efficiency and conservation

“We passed many other priority bills of the President, including those not mentioned in his 2018 SONA…. A truly working House were we. Even the recent midterm elections did not distract us from what needed to be done,” said Arroyo.

With her stint in Congress ending, Arroyo is set to become a consultant for the provincial government in Pampanga, where her close friend and political ally, outgoing Governor Lilia Pineda, has been elected vice governor. Arroyo’s son Mikey is set to replace her as Pampanga 2nd District representative in the 18th Congress.

Arroyo previously said she wants to write her memoirs after her term as congresswoman ends. But rumors persist that she is being eyed for a Cabinet post.

Controversial leadership

Like her 9-year presidency, Arroyo’s speakership was not without controversy. 

She stole the spotlight from her ally Duterte on July 23, 2018 when her allies ousted Davao del Norte 1st District Representative Pantaleon Alvarez as Speaker and made her the new leader of the House. (READ: The women behind the fall of Alvarez) 

The political forces of two other powerful women helped bring Arroyo to the speakership: presidential daughter and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, and Ilocos Norte Governor turned senator-elect Imee Marcos. 

Arroyo also had to grapple with the months-long deadlock between the House and the Senate over the passage of the P3.757-trillion budget for 2019.  

Lawmakers were accused of inserting P95 billion of allegedly anomalous appropriations in the public works budget, which Duterte later vetoed when he finally signed the national budget into law on April 15. (READ: Winners and losers under Duterte’s 2019 budget)

“Despite great difficulties, Congress came up with an enacted budget, avoiding the large problems that a reenactment of the last budget would have created. I congratulate those who worked tirelessly to bring the 2019 budget to fruition. I thank the President for respecting the mandate of both the House and the Senate to participate fully in the process,” said Arroyo.

The Speaker said she has submitted to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) a list of projects that the legislators want to be implemented within 2019. 

“Our understanding is that the DPWH will check the projects that can be accommodated within its continuing appropriations or savings, subject to the department’s evaluation if they are implementation-ready,” said Arroyo.

Legacy? Fiscal stability

At the end of her speech, Arroyo said the legacy she will be leaving behind as a public servant is that of restoring the country’s fiscal stability during her 9-year presidency.

“I think my legacy will center around restoring our country’s fiscal stability after a storm of financial crisis here and abroad. Our fiscal reforms expanded resources for infrastructure and development, after which, as I said earlier, our poverty level went down from 39% to 26%,” said Arroyo.

It was a similar speech she delivered during her 72nd birthday in April, when she talked about her legacy in a public speech for the first time. 

Arroyo ended her speech by saying how she grateful she was that she became Philippine president and Speaker of the House.

“I thank God for giving me the rare privilege to serve as president, which is the highest nationally-elected position in the land, and then now as speaker of the House, which is the highest ranking locally-elected official of the Philippines. I thank God but I also thank you because you elected me as speaker,” said Arroyo. 

“We are all on a journey together. As our nation moves forward, let us all join hands in unity and walk confidently towards a better tomorrow. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for giving me the honor and privilege of serving you,” added Arroyo as she ended her speech. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.