In January 2001 Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Estrada’s former vice president, was sworn in as the country’s 14th president. A daughter of former president Diosdado Macapagal with a doctorate in economics, Arroyo was faced with the challenges of leading a democracy that had remained dominated by the elite, stimulating the economy to grow faster than the country’s population, providing jobs for an abundance of the country’s large group of college graduates each year, and relieving poverty. Despite some reduction of poverty, as well as the curbing of corruption in certain arenas, Arroyo struggled with political instability and widespread crime, including the increasingly common kidnappings for ransom. She herself became implicated in corruption, which stirred disillusioned soldiers to attempt a coup in 2003. The coup failed, and Arroyo was reelected to the presidency in 2004. Later allegations of election fixing and an increasingly repressive approach to government, however, sparked a call for impeachment and another coup plot in 2006; once again the coup failed. Arroyo subsequently declared a “state of emergency” and banned all public demonstrations. Although the declaration was quickly lifted, the gesture was broadly perceived as emblematic of authoritarian rule. In September 2007 Estrada, who had been under house arrest outside of Manila since 2001, was convicted on additional graft charges and given a life sentence; however, Arroyo soon pardoned him of all charges.
Throughout the turmoil in the executive branch, political and economic issues have continued to animate the Philippines in other realms. In the Muslim south, increasingly militant and widespread unrest has been a growing concern. In the north, a concerted movement has been under way to reformulate the country’s constitution. In the international arena, remittances from overseas Filipinos (which have become an important component of the economy) increasingly have been jeopardized as neighbouring countries have rewritten their laws regarding foreign employment and have threatened to deport undocumented workers.
In 2009, underscoring the delicacy of the situation in the south, members of a powerful ruling clan in Mindanao were implicated in a November incident in which a political opponent of the clan and his entourage were massacred. Until then the Arroyo government had been allied with the clan as a means of counteracting Moro separatists. However, in early December Arroyo broke with the clan and declared martial law in a portion of Mindanao—the first time it had been imposed since the Marcos era—precipitating considerable domestic debate. The decree was lifted several days later, after the government declared it had thwarted a potential rebellion in Mindanao.