Former Philippine leader Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was elected speaker of the lower house of Congress on Monday, following a dramatic move by lawmakers to replace a loyalist of President Rodrigo Duterte with one of his most influential allies.
The removal of speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to make way for political heavyweight Arroyo could be pivotal in Duterte’s moves to consolidate power and ensure legislative passage of his core policies and his major revision of the constitution.
The diminutive Arroyo, 71, who was in power from 2001-2010 and then detained for five years for graft, was sworn in as the country’s first woman house speaker late on Monday after receiving the support of 184 house members present, with 48 against and 12 abstentions.
Arroyo’s climb back to become the nation’s fourth most powerful elected official will further strengthen Duterte’s hand due to her political clout and good relations with some of his biggest critics, particularly among influential Catholic bishops.
Her return will be of little surprise, as many officials Duterte has appointed had served in her administration and the two share similar policy agendas, including their desire to have strong ties with historic rival China.
A former congresswoman and senator as well as president, she has weathered five impeachment efforts and military coups that failed.
She was accused of rigging elections and her government was plagued by allegations of graft involving Chinese firms, which she denies. The Supreme Court in 2016 dismissed plunder charges against her and ordered her release from hospital detention, throughout which she still held her seat in Congress.
Though former speaker Alvarez was effective in pushing Duterte’s agenda, he was known for being a divisive figure who had an acrimonious fallout with the president’s politically connected daughter, Sara Duterte.
Political commentator Earl Parreno said Arroyo had the experience and influence to shepherd through Duterte’s planned shift to a federal system, and might have her eye on the presidency for when his term ends.
“She is perfect for the job,” Parreno said.
“This signals a big political comeback. She may have an ambition to replace Duterte under a new constitution in 2022. The only question is, is she acceptable?”