Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo faced a hard choice. She could endure 18 more months of political and economic hell, at the end of which she would run for and probably win another six years in office, during which she would have to grapple with an economically bankrupt and deeply divided nation. Or she could set personal ambition aside and attempt to implement reforms so sorely needed since it became independent 54 years ago. She chose the second course. With nothing more to lose, President Arroyo can now start radical institutional reforms without worrying whom she might offend. An economist, Mrs Arroyo, among all Philippine presidents, was most keenly aware that instituting radical reforms virtually ensured a politician electoral defeat. Three months before she became president, Mrs Arroyo told the South China Morning Post that her father, the late president Diosdado Macapagal, lost his re-election bid because he had angered landlords with his radical agrarian reform programme. She said if ever she became president, she intended to continue what her father had started. Among these was to reduce poverty. Mrs Arroyo said yesterday she expected the Congress to follow her example by passing her priority pieces of legislation - among them, the anti-terrorist law and amendments to the anti-money laundering legislation. To make her sacrifice worth it, she is also expected to change the lopsided and corrupt tax system to make the wealthy pay more through direct taxes, instead of raising the bulk of revenues from the poor through indirect taxes. The timing of Mrs Arroyo's announcement was impeccable. The Philippines was well on its way to political chaos and instability. Her administration was on the defensive, reeling from a series of scandals and controversies. Her husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, was accused of receiving 18 million pesos (HK$2.6 million) in charitable donations from Congressman Mark Jimenez, who had confessed to handing out money right and left in order to stop his extradition to the United States for various crimes. Mr Jimenez also claimed that Mrs Arroyo's favourite cabinet official, Justice Secretary Hernando Perez, had extorted US$2 million from him. And he hinted he would expose more people close to her. Senator Panfilo Lacson, a presidential wannabe, also alleged that Mr Perez received a US$2 million payoff in exchange for endorsing a power plant rehabilitation contract. The opposition was preparing to expose even more scandals involving her officials. Public disapproval of the president's performance had been growing. Mrs Arroyo's declaration has taken the wind out of all of these. She now makes all the politicians openly lusting for the presidency look ambitious and selfish. Her personal sacrifice will give the nation a respite from an excess of politicking. It will force the political opposition to work with her, temper the cynicism of a deeply divided nation, and could make the press regard her actions more kindly. Despite her public vow not to contest the 2004 presidential election, she still cannot completely be taken out of the race. If she does extremely well, another 'people power' show of force could push her to run. And even if she does not, she plays the role of kingmaker and becomes a role model for future politicians to follow.