Politics has always been in Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s blood. She was 14 years old when her father, Diosdado Macapagal, became the country’s ninth President. “GMA” herself would become the 14th President of the Philippines—before gaining another milestone as the country’s first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Despite her political roots, Speaker Arroyo was not always a politician. She set out to be an economist, studying in the United States for two years at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service in Washington, D.C. She then earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Assumption College, graduating magna cum laude in 1968.
Later, Mrs. Arroyo earned her master’s degree in Economics from the Ateneo de Manila University and was awarded her doctorate in Economics at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. Her interest and knowledge in economics, plus her political pedigree, made her a natural for the field of politics.
However, unlike her father “Cong. Dado” who represented Pampanga’s first district in Congress, she did not enter government through local politics. Then-President Corazon Aquino invited her to join the Cabinet as assistant secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry, where she was promoted to Undersecretary two years later. In her concurrent position as Executive Director of the Garments and Textile Export Board, Arroyo oversaw the rapid growth of the garment industry in the late 1980s.
Her first try for an elective position was successful, as in 1992 she was voted into the Senate, ranking 13th and earning a three-year term. She was re-elected in 1995, topping the senatorial polls with nearly 16 million votes, and earned six more years in the upper chamber.
As a senator, Arroyo filed over 400 bills and authored or sponsored 55 laws during her tenure, including the Anti-Sexual Harassment Law, the Indigenous People’s Rights Law, and the Export Development Act.
However, Arroyo cut her Senate term short in 1998 by running for Vice President as then-Speaker Jose de Venecia’s running mate. She won as Joseph Estrada was elected President, making her the first woman Vice President of the country. That same year, Estrada appointed her as concurrent Social Welfare Secretary, but she left the position as the President faced calls for impeachment.
When Estrada was forced out of office by the Second EDSA Revolution in 2001, Arroyo was sworn into the presidency by Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr. on January 20, becoming the country’s second female President. She was elected to a full six-year presidential term in the 2004 elections and stepped down from office in 2010.
Arroyo was then elected to the House of Representatives, making her the second Philippine president—after José P. Laurel—to pursue a lower elective office after becoming President.
Indeed, Speaker Arroyo has seen it all. As one newspaper columnist put it: “A trade-and-industry technocrat in the 1980s, she became senator then Vice President in the 1990s, and nine-and-a-half-year President in 2001-2010. She is presently Pampanga congresswoman, till May 2019.”
But even at 71 years old, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has proven she has many more years of public service in her. Having been voted into all the top elective posts of the country, being Speaker may not be the final stop of her long and glittering political journey.