(TV Patrol story aired on April 7, 2011. Watch Patrol ng Pilipino episode on April 12, 2011 over Channel 2)
We all already have this image of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as a quick-tempered person. For all the things that’s been said about her, all the things she and people around her have been accused of, it would be quite easy to dismiss her or describe her in lots of unflattering ways.
After all, she hasn’t exactly talked a lot about herself for the most part of her public life. What we know about her is largely what the media reported about her, from what media can perceive, and not necessarily and not always from her directly.
A colleague from another media company once described her as someone who seems to have been traumatized by how media could handle or mishandle information about her, kind of like how a shell clams up when disturbed, possibly never opening up again. Yet, another thinks it the quintessential way of dealing with people bullying you – ignore your critics. It pisses them off more while you go do what you’ve always been good at doing.
A colleague once described Arroyo as a smart person who is smart enough to know she doesn’t have to answer questions unless she wants to.
But if there’s anything I’ve learned from years of covering her, keep an open mind about her, and you may just think twice about everything you’ve heard.
Try to know and understand her better, and she may just let you in—the way she let us in to her home, and her soul, one beautiful morning in April 2011.
Nine months after she gave us an exclusive last look on her 9-year presidency, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo faced ABS-CBN News again.
This time—she has obviously moved on and settled in to her new life as a homemaker, and a congresswoman for her cabalens in Pampanga’s 2nd district.
Homemaker and legislator
Around 11 a.m. on April 7, 2011, when Arroyo opened her home to ABS-CBN News in Quezon City, for an interview primarily for Patrol ng Pilipino.
Opening the door to her family’s home, Arroyo was a far cry from the stiff, stern school marm image she was when she was President. Her hair was styled longer, her make up giving her glamour girl cover girl looks, and she was dressed like the modern senior citizen – energetic but still dignified, old but in many ways, still young.
She was chattier than usual as she took us around her house, and showed pictures of her family’s different generations.
Their house in La Vista is steeped in family history. The village itself used to be a family compound of her husband’s Tuason family side. The house they live in used to be her mother-in-law’s house, the first and only house Gloria and Mike Arroyo moved into after marrying in 1968.
It’s the same house where she and Mike raised their 3 children – Juan Miguel, Evangelina Lourdes, and Diosdado Ignacio, also known as Mikey, Luli, and Dato.
She showed us her family’s picture gallery in the foyer, brought us downstairs to the main sala, and ushered us into the poolside that has a stunning view of the Marikina valley.
It’s a big house, which used to have all of the 3 Arroyo children. Now it’s just the former leader and her husband who live here, since their children have their own families now.
“Noong ako hindi pa Presidente yung mga anak ko binata at dalaga pa. sa lahat sila nakatira dito kasama ko, kasama ng aking lola, yung aking mother-in-law,” she said.
Arroyo’s 2 sons, Mikey and Dato, are also congressmen. The only daughter, Luli, is busy with her work with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). “Iyung anak kong babae naman… she’s been a very private person kaya gusting-gusto niya ito.
She is also thankful her husband’s health is stable after suffering an aneurysm in 2007.
“Nung ako’y naging pangulo, isa-isang nag-asawa na sila. So ngayon, kaming 2 na lang ng aking asawa ang nakatira dito,” Arroyo said.
She has fond memories of the place, which is now primarily under her care since her mayordoma died.
It is a role that Arroyo is taking on for the first time, from commander-in-chief to homemaker-in- chief.
“First time, naging full homemaking ako. Kasi nung ako ay kinasal nga gaya ng nasabi ko ay itong bahay na ito ay bahay ng aking in-laws. Nandito ang aking mother-in-law at mayroon siyang napakagaling na mayordoma at siya ang yaya ng asawa ko mula nang siya ay napanganak,” she said.
“Lahat ng pangangailangan ko, mother in law ko nagpro-provide. Ultimong toilet paper, pag wala nakong toilet paper, siya ang magpro-provide.”
Arroyo explains this is why she had a chance to pursue a career in government service.
For the many criticisms hurled against her, rarely, if at all, has her professional background and work ethic ever been questioned. Neither can anyone describe her as lazy.
She worked at the Department of Trade and Industry’s Garments and Textiles Board, before running for senator, vice-president, and securing a 9-year term at the Presidency.
“Kaya naman ako nagkaroon ng pagkataon na mapursige ang aking karera, ang aking public service. Ngayon wala na siya. So iyun ang isang improtanteng pagkakaiba. Mas kailangan ko asikasuhin ang tahanan kaysa noong bago ako (mag) Presidente.”
Arroyo seems to have brought the discipline and adeptness she had as President, in her new role. “I don’t have much idle time. Kahit hindi na ako Pangulo at kung meron akong idle time gaya nga ng nasabi ko nagcacatch up ako sa bagong karera ko bilang house keeper, house wife (laughs).“
Arroyo recalled that even before she handed over the reins of power to her successor, she was already embracing her new life.
“Actually bago pa noon, lumipat na ako ng bahay. Iyung araw na naproclaim yung bagong Pangulo lumipat na ako. Bumalik nako dito sa tahanan. Bindi hindi naman bago yun sa akin dahil bumaba rin sa pwesto yung aking tatay dahil siya ay naging Pangulo at pagkatapos. nagbagong buhay. “
She recalled her own transition in July 1, 2010. “Paggising ko, nag ayos-ayos ako dito. Tapos, nung gabi, nagpunta ako sa isang American Embassy reception.”
Arroyo doesn’t seem to mind the slower pace of her life now.
“Hindi naman ako na-culture shock mas tahimik ang buhay ko pero meron naman rin akong public life. And you don’t want a back-breaking schedule. To begin with, it’s just an obligation.“
Unlike former President Fidel Ramos, Arroyo doesn’t seem to miss the presidency, not even its traffic clearing privilege, something that comes in handy for a place like Metro Manila. “Okay lang sa akin yung ma-traffic, importante lang time management. Kailangan lang mas maaga umalis.”
As congresswoman of Pampanga, she moved her office to Batasan Pambansa, just a few minutes away from her house. “Malapit lang ang Congress dito at saka nung ako’y Pangulo, narami na akong inayos sa banda rito. Mas maikli biyahe papuntang Congress lalo na pag natapos yung over pass na ginagawa ko noon.”
While her previous job literally took her places, now she only has one place to attend to, aside from Batasan Pambansa. That’s how her day looks now.
“Depende kasi kung Monday to Wednesday. Kung session day, Congress ang pinupuntahan ko. Pag Thursday to Friday, distrito ang pinupuntahan ko. Pag Saturday-Sunday, private time. Depende kasi pag private time you don’t have to program it. Iyun ang isang kaibahan pagka naging Pangulo at hindi ka Pangulo. Pag Pangulo ka, nakaprogram lahat kahit private time.”
She’s not busy as a home maker and lawmaker—Arroyo is indulging her inner book reader. She even has an iPad where she now reads a book on the 2008 US elections campaign. “Mas mahilig ako sa libro. yung ano game change. written by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. “
Arroyo’s new look
The change in Arroyo that drew the most attention was not her new life, but her new look.
Slimmer, younger looking and more glamorous, Arroyo gamely shared her beauty secret. “Maraming nagtatanong sa akin, palagi kong sinasabi first of all ang sikreto ko hindi facelift. Hindi ako nag-facelift. Masasabi mong siyensiya siguro yung hotpack science iyun o yung mga nira-rub sa mukha in that sense. Wala yung mga invasive.”
When asked who did her facials—Arroyo replied, “kung minsan yung aking manikurista pumupunta rito pero for yung mga higher tech mga hot pack at iniikot na machines sa mukha yung, Zen Institute.”
She’s also conscious of what she eats.
“I avoid visible fat. Basically that one. Pero I really eat, only one full meal a day. This is like Catholic fasting when you say one full meal a day it doesn’t mean you cannot eat anything. You eat a little here a little there and it’s not strict. I’m not hard on myself. Usual schedule ko is one full meal a day sa gabi, soup ang kinakain naming mag-asawa.”
Recently, Arroyo turned 64—spending her first birthday after the presidency in a different way.
“Every year, ever since naging public servant ako, naging public figure ako, nagmimisa ako at nagbe-breakfast sa Lubao pagkatapos ng breakfast tatakbo na kung saang bahagi ng bansa dahil mayroong mga hinandang okasyon. Pero ngayon, ang kasama ko at masayang masaya kababayan ko mga mahihirap ng aking distrito at pati ng aking probinsiya. “
Say what you want against her, Arroyo simply has a lot to share. And she seems to be willing to pass on what she’s learned to the next generation—at the right time. “Alam mo, malaking karangalan ang nakamit ko na nakapaglingkod sa taong bayang Pilipino bilang Pangulo at while I’m looking forward to someday magsusulat, pero sa ngayon di pa buo ang aking pagkababa mula sa serbisyo publiko. “
Even teaching is an option for the future, just not now because she’s still busy enough with her legislative work.
“Gaya ng sabi ko im looking forward to teaching pero sa ngayon kasi di pa buo ang aking retirement may mga imbitasyon sa akin to have a lecture series abroad pero extended lecture series. Di nagkakatugma mga schedule sa aking congressional recess eh. Since I have not fully retired yet mahirap , mahirap makahanap ng common schedule.”
Arroyo seems to be thriving—and showing everyone there is indeed life after Malacañan. That is even if she doesn’t think her predecessor will be fair to her.
“Base sa mga nangyayari, hindi. Ngunit merong tayong konstitusyon. Meron tayong mga batas na dapat sundan at meron tayong mga korte na sila ang magtutupad.”
Many other questions will be asked, and will have to be asked of Gloria Arroyo, for the person that she has become, the actions she took, and the person she is poised to still be.
On this particular interview, she left me with impression that she’s more than ready to tackle those head on, at the right place, and the right time.