I Will Follow My Father's Footsteps I Am Prepared'

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Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is a trained economist and daughter of a former President of the Philippines. As head of the forces seeking to oust President Joseph Estrada, and next in line should he step down, she now looks like she may follow her father's example sooner than planned. On Nov. 7 she sat down with TIME Manila reporter Nelly Sindayen to discuss the current crisis. Edited excerpts: TIME: You have consistently denied that you have been engaged in negotiations for President Estrada's graceful exit. You said in your press conferences that if such negotiations were taking place, they were unauthorized. Arroyo: [They are] authorized. TIME: How soon do you think President Estrada should go? Arroyo: As soon as possible. If he could resign now, all the better. But I wouldn't want to call it a graceful exit. I would rather call it an exit scenario. TIME: What would be the conditions of such an exit scenario? Arroyo: I'm not meddling with the substance because as I've said it requires consensus. TIME: Do you think things would improve if you were to become President? Arroyo: Oh yes, oh yes. Things are so bad now. TIME: They can't get any worse? Arroyo: Oh yes, they can still get worse but they can get better under us. TIME: So, as President, how would you address the economic problems confronting the country? Arroyo: The lack of confidence [among investors] is the result of a perceived lack of transparency and of a level playing field. So what is the antidote to this? Transparency and a level playing field. TIME: You are trying to form -- and lead -- a united Opposition. Could you tell us more about this? Arroyo: Our political system needs changing. It needs to move away from personalities and patronage to a system of party programs and consultation with the people. We are presently drafting an alternative national agenda. My contribution is fourfold. Firstly, I want to highlight the rightful place of the private sector in the 21st century. Filipino businessmen must have the ability to compete freely in the global economy. Secondly, there is an economic development plan to deal with the large problem of poverty and, thirdly, we need a modernized agricultural sector founded on social equity. Without this we will never win the struggle against poverty in our rural countryside. Fourthly, I want to improve moral standards in the government and Philippines' society. TIME: What about charges that you yourself are close to an alleged gambling lord, Bong Pineda, in your hometown in Pampanga? Arroyo: It was out of a Christian duty that I became a godmother -- one of several -- during a baptism of one of his children. I've consulted Cardinal Jaime Sin on this, and he told me that the sin of the father is not the sin of the child. TIME: As President, how would you handle Pineda? Arroyo: I would handle him by not getting any payola from him, by not socializing with him. TIME: Do you have any message for the military? Some feel if this chaos continues, the army might intervene. Arroyo: The military is faithful to the constitution. They will come in only to protect the people from the enemies of the state. TIME: What would your presidency look like? Arroyo: Leadership by example, transparency, a good work ethic and a dignified lifestyle. I'll just have to emulate my father [President Diosdado Macapagal, who served from 1961-1965]. During his time, the Philippines was second only to Japan in Asia. TIME: Do you think you can duplicate his feat? Arroyo: No, we're too far behind now. But things will improve. What will be your biggest problems should you become the next Philippines President? Arroyo: Dealing with poverty, improving confidence in both the political and business spheres, raising ethical standards in the country, and finding a solution to the Mindanao hostage problem. How would you handle Mindanao [Since the early 1970s the southern island has been wracked by warfare between Muslim separatists and the predominately Catholic central government]? Arroyo: I will go back to the negotiating table. In relation to the hostage problem, I would have handled it all more swiftly. The troops should have come in sooner. Do you welcome the participation of the Organization of Islamic Conference? Arroyo: Yes. I think it would be desirable because they also want peace and are against succession. TIME: Do you think you would make a better President [than Estrada]? Arroyo: I will follow my father's footsteps by doing what is right, and God will take care of the rest. My father is my role model. My living role model is Cory Aquino. I am prepared.