Amid mounting pressure, President Arroyo had promised on Wednesday to lift the state of national emergency as soon as the security situation is under control.
She had ordered the submission of a full assessment report from the national police chief, the secretary of defence and the justice secretary on the peace and order in the country to serve as her basis for lifting the proclamation. “I will lift the state of emergency when I am satisfied that each official can assure me that we have control of the situation. The government acted to ensure the domestic safety of the Republic and will lift the state of emergency as soon as these criteria are met,” Mrs. Arroyo said.
The state of national emergency was enacted last Friday to counter what she said was a “tactical alliance of communist rebels, military adventurists and elements in the political opposition aimed at toppling her” (Philippine Star, 2 March).
The continued implementation of the state of emergency has sparked off criticisms from the opposition and concerns from several groups including Vice President de Castro who is the highest government official allied with the President to call for the proclamation’s lifting.
As of Wednesday, four groups and individuals including the publisher of the Daily Tribune and a lawyers’ group have filed separate petitions seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the proclamation. The Supreme Court turned down the petitions but instead scheduled oral arguments on the legality of President’s Arroyo’s declaration of a state of national emergency.
Opposition activists, civil libertarians and all four petitions claim that Arroyo’s proclamation virtually imposed martial law, worrying that a string of warrantless arrests, ban on rallies and raid on a critical newspaper are jeopardizing political freedoms and fanning unrest. Critics also point to the similarity between the proclamation issued by Arroyo and formal dictator Ferdinand Marcos when he declared martial law.
The government maintained that the emergency declaration is “a crackdown on anarchy and disorder, not on freedoms” said Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye.
So far, 16 opposition figures including left-wing legislators have been detained. Several analysts commented that Arroyo has turned adversity into advantage, and her decision to declare a state of emergency appears to be part of a well-planned strategy to neutralise the country’s fractured opposition (Straits Times, 28 Feb). “The opposition is not offering any credible plan, and the public is clearly disillusioned,” said Ms Lorenzo, a senior economist.
Despite the widespread criticisms, Mrs Arroyo enjoys the strong backing from the military and police. The Armed Forces of the Philippines had earlier reminded military men of loyalty and discipline. “The (AFP) is still very solid now, still united, but from time to time, there are incidents. We have to constantly remind them (soldiers) of their mandate,” said AFP-Civil Relations Service chef Brig. Gen Buenaflor.
For the moment, it is important for Mrs Arroyo to address the shortcomings in the economy and the political system as a failure to deliver the goods may result in more revolt. According to the Financial Times, “Mrs Arroyo must use her dwindling political capital to push ahead with plans for political reform”- to replace the US-style presidential system with a parliamentary form. But this would need the approval of the Congress, whose members, drawn from the wealthy political elite would hate to bring about reforms that erode their authority (Channel News Asia, 1 March).
Michael Vatikiotis in his commentary in the ST opined that the crisis in the Philippines displays the shallowness of its democratic roots. “The world’s benchmark on democratic change tends to measure progress in term of electoral freedom and stable transfer of power at the top. There’s little probing of whether democracy is embraced as a powerful tool of structural change” (Straits Times, 2 March).
Mrs Arroyo’s first test will come shortly when the Supreme Court ordered the government to explain the basis for the emergency rule on March 7.
People Power fatigue in the Philippines, The Straits Times, 28 Feb
Arroyo slaps rebellion charge on 16 suspected coup plotters, The Straits Times, 28 Feb
Philippine govt may lift emergency rule soon, The Straits Times, 1 March
Emergency rule ‘to go once all’s stable’, The Straits Times, 2 March
Philippines relaxes alert levels, emergency remains, The Straits Times, 2 March
Democracy fragile in South-east Asia, The Straits Times, 2 March
Major players in crisis, The Straits Times, 2 March
Arroyo must now deliver reforms quickly, The Straits Times, 28 Feb
Manila to review Arroyo emergency powers on Sat, The Straits Times, 28 Feb
A Manila addiction, The Straits Times, 2 March
Analysis: Why the Edsa revolt may not happen again, Channel News Asia, 1 March
SC won’t issue TRO on ‘1017’, The Philippine Star, 28 Feb
Lawyers to defy rally ban, The Philippine Star, 28 Feb
GMA: 1017 to be lifted ASAP, The Philippine Star, 2 March
AFP men reminded of loyalty, The Philippine Star, 2 March
GMA calls for ‘1017’ report, The Manila Bulletin Online, 2 March
Noli: Lift emergency, The Manila Times, 2 March