THE PHILIPPINES: Gloria in Excelsis

Southeast Asian Affairs, January 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

THE PHILIPPINES: Gloria in Excelsis


Paul A. Rodell

Philippine political life always holds the potential for theatre and volatility, but going into 2001 no one could have predicted the momentous events that would soon rock the nation. By year's end, the Philippines had seen more drama than most other countries witness in a decade.

In January, President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, who is often referred to by his nickname "Erap", was overthrown by a massive uprising that quickly became known as "People Power 2", named after the first People Power revolution that toppled Estrada's friend, Ferdinand Marcos, fourteen years earlier. By April, Estrada was arrested on charges of economic plunder, a crime punishable by death, and his enraged supporters among the poor of Metro Manila took to the streets. Their effort to overthrow the new government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was soon dubbed EDSA 31 and a showdown occurred in the early morning hours of 1 May outside Malacanang, the presidential palace, which only narrowly fell short of success. Elections later that month reinforced the new President's regime even if her hold on power continued to be tenuous as her allies gained only a slim majority in the important Philippine Senate.

Adding to the political excitement was the investigation of numerous charges against Senator Panfilo Lacson, an Estrada loyalist and the former head of the erstwhile Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force. However, because of poor evidence and unreliable witnesses the charges have remained unproven. The year was also filled with rumours of possible military coups and bomb threats, some supposedly linked to individuals close to Lacson, and ad hoc military groups whose origins can be traced to the last years of the Marcos regime. Meanwhile, the criminal case against Estrada degenerated over questions about the competence and reliability of the judges and after the Supreme Court mandated changes, the proceedings were postponed to early 2002.

Even as May's election ballots were still being tallied and disputed, the notorious Abu Sayyaf guerrilla group staged another mass kidnapping. By year's end the crisis was not resolved, but the Abu Sayyaf gang was isolated on Basilan Island by a large and determined military force, despite serious initial difficulties and charges of military corruption and collusion with the kidnappers. …

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