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APU Person of the Year -- Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo


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SACRAMENTO -- Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is Person of the Year for the year 2004. The president of the Republic of the Philippines won her second term in a close, hard-fought electoral race.

Macapagal displayed resilience in surviving plummeting poll numbers, a host of internal problems and a famous movie star opponent to retake Malacanang Palace.

She also gained the attention of the world by deciding to withdraw Philippine troops from Iraq to gain the release of hostage Angelo de la Cruz.

The other major contenders for this year's award were the former Cambodian king Norodom Sihanouk who stepped down because of old age. King Norodom Sihamoni, 51, was selected by the Royal Privy Council to replace his father.

Another big news-maker was India's new prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, the first non-Hindu to hold the office and the 13th Prime Minister in the nation's history. Singh won a surprise victory over the conservative incumbent Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Macapagal is the daughter of Diosdado Macapagal, the fifth president of the Philippines. She is the first child of a president to have been elected to the same office. The Macapagal family traces its roots to Rajah Lankadula, who ruled Tundun before the Spanish conquest. Her father was born and raised in Lubao, Pampanga.

She was raised mainly in Iligan City in the southern island of Mindanao by her grandmother. Her mother hailed from that region of the Philippines. She attended Georgetown University in Washington DC and received her Bachelor of Science in Commerce at Assumption College in Metro Manila.

She earned also a Master's Degree in Economics at Ateneo de Manila University and a Doctorate Degree in Economics at the University of the Philippines.

Starting her career as a professor, she turned to politics after President Corazon Aquino appointed her as Assistant Secretary of Trade and Industry. She ran for and won a seat to the Philippine Senate in 1992.

She became president after leading a public protest that forced then President Joseph Estrada to resign after charges of corruption and plunder.

However, her first term in office was plagued with difficulties. Her husband, Jose Arroyo, was continually under suspicion of corruption. The problem of terrorism and hostage-taking continued to haunt the country.

Her problems seemed compounded when cinema idol Fernando Poe Jr. decided to join the race against her. When Poe first declared his candidacy, he soared ahead of Macapagal in all the election and popularity polls. However, she kept her cool and organized a powerful coalition to support her reelection effort.

Coming from a more experienced political family, she was able to pull together top campaign advisors who gradually exposed Poe's weaknesses.

The joy of election victory though soon gave way to controversy that brought her into the international spotlight. Under pressure from the masses, Macapagal ordered the pullout of Philippines forces from Iraq to save hostage Angelo de la Cruz. She said the decision was necessary to safeguard millions of Filipinos working abroad. The move brought both condemnation and approval from the world's nations.

The decision was particularly tough due to pressure exerted on the country by the United States, the Philippines former colonial ruler. In a country were conspiracy theories of CIA involvement in local politics abound, her stand was seen as a courageous one by many.

Less than six months into her second term, Macapagal has already faced other major challenges including deadly floods and the Hacienda Luisita massacre where 16 labor protesters were killed.

The presidency of the Philippines has never been an easy job, and maybe much less so for Macapagal. She may need all the help her royal and presidential bloodlines can provide to finish her term on a positive note. So far, though she seems up to the challenge.

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