Despite the lifting of the emergency rule, President Arroyo has a host of problems to face in the Philippines.
Narrowly wining the presidential elections in 2004, she now faces a serious threat to her position from pressures stemming from the country’s political, security and socio-economic situations causing her popularity to plunge. Whatever the challenges are, Mrs Arroyo has displayed resilience by taking charge and displaying full control of the country.
She had again warned that she would not hesitate to use emergency powers should there be further coup attempts. “The laws are there and, as I said when I lifted the state of emergency, I am monitoring events and I will not hesitate to do what needs to be done to uphold the law,” Mrs Arroyo told GMA radio.
In the midst of keeping law and order in check, Arroyo battles with the democratic demands of the people. “I am a strong believer in democratic principles…But I also believe that we should stop people who abuse their freedoms and install groups that will one day destroy those very freedoms.” Her stance and the declaration of a weeklong state of emergency has not only sparked a public outcry but also provoked a backlash from the Philippine media which is one of the most freewheeling in Asia. Police had earlier raided the Daily Tribune, a newspaper critical of Arroyo, and troops were deployed around the two largest TV networks.
The Philippines Daily Inquirer said in an editorial that Arroyo “has not learned the lessons of history” in seeking to suppress dissent and criticism. “The most dangerous threat to a democracy, which in the Philippine case is an empty political ideology, is when media and the state come to terms,” said Amado Macasaet, publisher of a Malaya newspaper.
A group of journalist had earlier sent petitions seeking to declare Mrs Arroyo’s decree unconstitutional. However, according to Solicitor General Alfredo Benipayo, “questions about Mrs Arroyo’s proclamation have become moot since the decree was lifted. The proclamation did not clip or suspend any rights and had a clear basis in the constitution.”
While the police has clampdown on five legislators who were accused of conspiring with right-wing ‘military adventurists’ to oust the president, Mrs Arroyo has expressed her desire to work with political opposition, particularly former president Estrada who commands a large following among the poor, a support base both the embattled administration of President Gloria Arroyo and some of her political foes would like to have.
“This administration really wants reconciliation. As long as there is no reconciliation, there is the question of (Arroyo’s) legitimacy – and as long as that isn’t settled, there will be all sorts of problems and political instability,” said Mr Dilangalen, Estrada’s spokesman.
Political analysts say the last thing the government needs is the masses from Manila’s slums and shanties joining an opposition-sponsored ‘People Power’ revolt to overthrow Mrs Arroyo (ST, 8 March).
Coup plotters and Southern conflict
Conflict resolution on the south has been delayed by the emerging coup threats by dispirited groups in the military which poses as the greatest danger to the country’s stability.
“I think we are a highly fragile and volatile country right now, and at the center of that fragility and uncertainty are the splintered military – most of whom are ill equipped and poorly paid,” said Sen. Angara, chairman of the Committee on Peace, Unification and Reconciliation. What bothered the soldiers was the involvement of the military in the alleged cheating by president Arroyo during the 2004 election.
Angara also mentioned that young soldiers have grown indifferent to fighting because they usually lose to the communist rebels and Muslim separatists who were better equipped and armed and the restiveness is rampant especially in Mindanao, where the insurgency is taking place.
He believes the best way to counter an imminent coup is for the government to sign the peace pact in Mindanao. “Peace with the MILF is the biggest counter that may change all these, then we will begin rebuilding our military.”
The head of the MILF’s peace panel, Mr Mohaqher Iqbal, said he expected the informal meeting to be held around the middle of March.
The problems that the Philippines face today certainly did not arise from the Arroyo’s administration and that they cannot be changed overnight. As many as there are criticisms, President Arroyo also has supporters who believe that she has made the peso stronger and the economy poised to blossom, unless another coup attempt derails it (INQ7 Net, 9 March).
Estrada in demand, The Straits Times, 8 March 2006
Business as usual but heat stays on Philippine media, The Straits Times, 7 March 2006
I’ll do it again if necessary, warns Arroyo, The Straits Times, 8 March 2006
Arroyo renews warning she could re-impose state of emergency, The Straits Times, 7 March 2006
Media remain defiant in wake of emergency rule, SunStar, 8 March 2006
RP media remain defiant in wake of state of emergency, INQ7 Net, 8 March 2006
Angara: Military threat still there, The Manila Times, 9 March 2006
A letter from China, in favour of Arroyo, INQ7 Net, 9 March 2006
Arroyo not to blame for Philippines’ problems, INQ7 Net, 8 March 2006