Hello Garci! Goodbye Gloria? Political Struggle in the Philippines

Article excerpt

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's rise to power, after a revolt that toppled the populist yet corrupt Joseph Estrada in February, 2001, has brought about enormous social polarization and feelings of mass discontent.

Arroyo was not the real choice of the people to become their president after Estrada. But she became the president because she was then the vice-president, Estrada's constitutionally designated successor. Since then, Arroyo has desperately held on to power, placing the entire nation under virtual martial law to ensure her political survival.

During the 2004 Presidential elections, Arroyo used the influence of her administration and the help of the armed forces, national police and a top election official to rig the election results in her favour. A conversation between Arroyo and Virgilio Garcillano, an election commissioner, talking about this scheme was caught on an audiotape and soon after released to the media. This triggered public disgust, including from members of Arroyo's own cabinet. The "Hello Garci" scandal nearly brought Arroyo down, but her allies in the House of Representatives using a tactic called the "tyranny of the majority" to rescue Arroyo from impeachment. Since this issue was brought out to public attention, the problem of legitimacy has consistently haunted Arroyo.

In order to perpetuate her hold on power, Arroyo has resorted to a variety of political ploys, including awarding juicy positions to retired military and police generals in an ever-growing executive bureaucracy. This scheme is obviously aimed at securing the loyalty of the former generals. According to one report published by Bulatlat--an alternative weekly newsmagazine--there are at least 21 generals serving in the Arroyo cabinet and civil-service hierarchy.

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In a fashion similar to that of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the military presence in the provinces has surged during the Arroyo regime. In 2002, for example, the armed forces launched Oplan Bantay Laya, a counter-insurgency program supposedly designed to fight and eliminate insurgents through an intensive sustained military operation. The regime issued a propaganda manual called "Knowing the Enemy," which labeled most mass organizations, civil-rights groups and legal democratic movements as supporters of "terrorism" or Communists. This program is linked to the U.S.-led "War on Terror," in which the Philippines plays the role of a "second front" in the Asia-Pacific region.

In line with these developments, last December Norberto Gonzales, the national security adviser, tried to brand some progressive political parties like Bayan Muna (People First), Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) and the GABRIELA Women's Party as "Communists" in order to suppress their rights and criminalize their activities. Fortunately, the manoeuvre did not succeed.

In addition, there is also a calculated campaign of legal harassment against journalists, right now. …