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Déjà Vu in the Philippines

Updated On: Oct 19, 2007

President Arroyo announced (again) on Monday (14 October) during the Regional Workshop on the Establishment of National Human Rights Institutions in Asia in Pasay City that she would pursue changes to the 1987 Constitution.

She also said that a panel would be created to draft plans for the establishment of a federal government in 2012.

However, Arroyo’s plans have been greeted with the usual opposition as had been expressed during her earlier attempts to change the constitution.  Monsignor Pedro Quitorio of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) asked, “The administration is saddled with so many problems that even involve doubts in its credibility. So why will you push for something that is also as substantial as changing the Charter?”

Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. said he was willing to sit down with Arroyo to discuss the proposed shift to federalism from the present presidential form of government. However, he insisted that he would stay firm on his commitment not to discuss this at least for this year, explaining, “We will have to sit down with the President and find out what are the parameters of the proposal. What are the defining limits of the proposal and what is the time table and what will be the mode or course of action. Whether it’s  people’s initiative, constitutional convention or a constituent assembly… I made a promise that no Charter change for this year until we finish all the economic gains. I proposed a national moratorium and it's been observed.”

If the push for and against constitutional changes gave a sense of déjà vu in Philippines’ politics, the constant threat of coup and impeachments “hanging” over Arroyo also gave rise to a certain weariness in Philippines politics.  Saddled with allegations of corruption scandal, President Arroyo had faced so many potential unrests within the Armed Forces of Philippines, the latest coming from Senator Rodolfo Biazon warning that the Arroyo administration “should heed warnings of military restiveness” arising from reports of payoffs (bribery) handed to governors and lawmakers to block an impeachment bid against her “while troops await a long-promised combat pay rise”.

The political instability and poor compensation within the armed forces perhaps explains why the military has not been able to tackle terrorism effectively. The Philippines Marine chief Major Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino explained as he officially opened the exercises between the Philippines and United States troops, “Great military undertaking is in progress to finish off the Abu Sayyaf group and their Jemaah Islamiyah cohorts in Basilan and the Sulu archipelago…It is only through enhanced interoperability between our forces that we can effectively address any threat in this region.”

About 6,500 Philippine and United States troops began a joint training exercise this week, aimed at streamlining military cooperation between the two countries. The annual manoeuvres are to last for two weeks and will for the first time, involve ground, air and naval forces.

Dolorfino also revealed that Philippine troops came within reach of a top Indonesian terror suspect, Dulmatin during a raid on a rebel safe house in the province of Tawi Tawi in May. However, the troops failed to recognize him, allowing him to escape to remote Simunol island. Nonetheless, Dolorfino assured that the incident proved that the military was closing onto Dulmatin.

In another incident, the government was luckier. The Superintendent Teng Tocao, acting police chief of Sultan Kudarat province said that police and soldiers retrieved and discovered and disarmed a bomb in the Tacurong city square. (Tacurong is about 960km south of Manila). Tocao said authorities haven’t determined the motive for the bomb— the bomb could either have been placed by extortion gangs or terrorists. Earlier this month, two bombs went off near a department store in Kidapawan city—60 kilometers northeast of Tacurong— killed two children and wounded more than two dozen others.  (19 October 2007)

Sources:

AFP to “stand behind” Arroyo - Defence Chief (The Philippines Inquirer, 19 October 2007)

Arroyo orders probe of cash gifts to officials (The Manila Standard, 18 October 2007)

Charter change untimely (Manila Bulletin, 18 October 2007)

De Venecia welcomes Charter change talk but not this year  (Inquirer.net, 17 October 2007)

RPUS hold joint military exercise (BusinessWorld, 17 October 2007)

Philippine Police: Foiled Possible Bomb Attack (Dow Jones, 17 October 2007)

Philippine troops came within reach of top Indonesian terror suspect, officials say (Associated Press, 16 October 2007)







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