Less than a week after a massive explosion in a central Manila mall killed 11 people and injured more than 100, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo went shopping. A delivery truck, its front end sheared off by the blast, still sat outside. Inside, a primly dressed Arroyo bought shoes, then toured the complex with a group of reporters. "See?" she told the crowd. "It's business as usual."
Nothing is usual in the Philippines these days. On the face of things, the country is doing well enough. After decades of uneven growth, the economy finally seems on the mend. Meanwhile, the festering insurgencies in the country's south, which have claimed more than 160,000 lives since the 1970s, have entered an uneasy lull. In recent weeks, however, the Arroyo administration has been beset by fresh allegations of corruption, giving the impression of a government under siege. Last week, former President Fidel Ramos, a widely respected figure, warned Arroyo that she was losing public trust: "I have told her, reform yourself before you talk about reforming other people and institutions."
In a recent speech, Arroyo advised Filipinos not to be swayed by "half-truths and partisan intrigues." Her standing, however, has been hurt: according to the independent pollster Social Weather Stations, Arroyo's approval rating has dipped to 34%. Even an apparent industrial accident is redounding unfavorably on her. Although police initially announced that they had found traces of a compound used in military-grade explosives at the mall-blast site, they later attributed the explosion to a gas leak. But as the last bodies were still being pulled from the wreckage, an opposition senator himself on trial for leading an attempted coup against Arroyo in 2003 accused members of her Cabinet of orchestrating the blast in order to distract attention from a scandal allegedly involving bags of cash handed out at the presidential palace to lawmakers.
Arroyo isn't just facing attack from sworn political enemies. Three prominent Catholic bishops have joined the chorus calling for her resignation, while the head of the country's influential Bishops' Conference charged her administration with "moral bankruptcy." Whisperings of an impending palace coup remain rampant among Manila's political observers. "I think the military will do a Thailand," says Harry Roque, an international-law professor at the University of the Philippines and a vocal Arroyo critic.