, MANILA, Nov 19 – President Gloria Arroyo on Thursday stepped down as leader of the Philippines\’ ruling party but offered no clues about her future plans amid talk she may seek a seat in Congress.
Arroyo, whose six-year presidency, tainted with allegations of graft, ends next year, urged her party to rally behind its presidential candidate, Defence Secretary Gilberto Teodoro.
"I am relinquishing (my post) today as national chairperson and handing over the reins of the party\’s top leadership to the brilliant, young standard bearer selected by our national executive committee, Gilbert Teodoro," Arroyo told some 3,000 members of the Lakas-Kampi-CMD coalition.
Local media have speculated that Arroyo will run for Congress in the May 2010 vote to win a temporary reprieve against possible corruption charges that the opposition has threatened to launch against her. Sitting legislators may not be prosecuted for certain violations of the law while they are in office.
In 2001, then vice president Arroyo took the remaining three years in office of elected president Joseph Estrada when he was impeached for corruption and later deposed in a bloodless coup.
She won a full six-year term in 2004 in elections marred by allegations of widespread fraud.
A victory by Teodoro, it is said, would give Arroyo an extra layer of protection from her enemies. However his popularity rating remains low amid defections that have hit the coalition in recent days.
Arroyo on Thursday described the presidential campaign as "a big and arduous task".
"But our party has been challenged many times before and has won," she said.
"May each and every party leader, and each and every grassroots member, work hard and work together for the victory of our standard bearer and all our party\’s candidates in 2010," she said.
An independent nationwide opinion poll this week showed Teodoro enjoyed just two percent support.
Topping the survey was his cousin, Benigno Aquino, the son of the late democracy icon Corazon Aquino, who has capitalised on massive outpouring of sympathy and support when his popular mother, who was president between 1986 and 1992, passed away in July.