Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Issue No. 45                         December 23 - 29,  2001                   Quezon City, Philippines

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A Year of Betrayal 

2001 will be recorded in history as the year a second president was ousted in disgrace and a woman would take over. But just like the Aquino presidency, the Arroyo leadership had to hurdle tumultous events – coup plots, the war in Mindanao, etc. She has since parted ways with the bulk of the forces that made Edsa 2 possible and there are no signs at all that the president will be marking People Power II with that historic event’s prime actors a month from now.

BY Bobby Tuazon


It has been 11 months since People Power 2 installed Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo into the presidency. By her constitutional rights as vice president, she became the president once the much-discredited Joseph Estrada was ousted from Malacañang.

But the political support that made that presidential succession possible is now gone. True, the Arroyo administration - a regime that is rooted in traditional, elitist politics – is in power. But this power has nothing to indicate that she is in control. Arroyo remains in office simply because the military and the Bush administration prop her up.

When Arroyo took her oath as president, on Jan. 21 she literally and symbolically turned her back on the very forces who made her presidency possible. She took her oath as representatives of the ruling elite including presidential wannabes and top military officials cheered.

But that ceremonial display of power was nothing compared to the more powerful voice of tens of thousands of protesters who, after spending a sleepless night, marched from Edsa in Quezon City to Mendiola in Manila. The marchers who made up the bulk of Edsa 2 force had a singular objective in mind: to step up the pressure and force Estrada to quit. Arroyo’s oath of office was merely symbolic; the mammoth display of street power at Mendiola was the final blow that ended the plunderous rule of Estrada. The real victory took place here.

It was not at all entirely unexpected that various groups and politicians who benefited from the Estrada presidency would try to stage a power comeback. The coup plot that was hatched before the climactic events at Edsa 2 that would bring about a civilian-military junta with Estrada as titular president was revived.

Second coup

This second coup attempt culminated in the May 1 siege of Malacañang. The siege failed because top Armed Forces and police generals who were being wooed by the plotters to support it decided to stay with Arroyo. The decision was reached as soon as the American embassy expressed in no uncertain terms the Bush administration’s support to the president.

The attempts at power grab by the new opposition camp all the more tightened Arroyo’s dependence on military support. In turn, the military faction that has gained a foothold in her regime has been assured of a strong militarist stance particularly on matters pertaining to national security.

It is under this situation that Arroyo early on in her presidency launched an all-out war policy against the armed revolutionary movement and dropped all pretensions at forging peace with the leftist guerrillas. This hard-line policy is being waged not only on Marxist guerrillas but also on the Moro guerrillas with extreme ferocity that countless atrocities have been reportedly committed against innocent civilians. All initiatives about continuing the peace talks on both fronts are crafted along the same policy held by Arroyo’s predecessors – to extract a surrender from  the revolutionary groups.

Bush administration

It is on these national security matters that the president has forged a deal with the Bush administration for deeper intervention. Upon the advice of Arroyo’s military advisers, the United States state department has revived its tag on the New People’s Army (NPA) as a “terrorist organization” along with the bandit group Abu Sayyaf. On the pretext of crushing the backbone of “international terrorism,” the US government is expected to back Arroyo’s counter-insurgency campaign by fielding more American “advisers,” war materiel as well as extending training and intelligence support. In turn, the Bush administration has pledged some $4 billion in economic and military aid to the Manila government.

There is no question that the president is continuing with globalization policies which she, along with Fidel V. Ramos and other neo-liberal advocates, contrived when she was still a senator. Signs have been all clear about this particular direction her government is leading the country into – in her first meetings with business leaders, in the appointment of Cabinet men known for their strong neo-liberal and pro-capitalist stance, in her first State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA), in her trips abroad and in the recent national socio-economic summit at the Manila Hotel.

Arroyo had promised to adopt safety nets to cushion the adverse effects of globalization. No such thing is reflected in her legislative priorities. She wants to be known as the president who waged war against poverty and to uplift the plight of farmers. But her commitment to accelerate the privatization of public services and agencies and to push further the import liberalization policy are driving millions of Filipinos more to permanent poverty.

Economic crisis

Contrary to the claims of her census and economic officials, the nation underwent severe economic crisis during her first 11 months. Some 110,000 jobs were lost and thousands of companies shut down. Manufacturing and agriculture – important pillars of a developing economy – suffered a slump.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Arroyo readily lost whatever political support she used to enjoy at the height of the last Edsa. While promoting globalization that would further enrich the rich and enhance land monopoly, she has turned her back on a people’s comprehensive agenda that would have led to genuine reforms and laid the ground for a lasting peace. Her own hostile policies against the poor, including the lifting of a moratorium on urban poor demolitions, has earned her more enemies among the people in so short a time compared to her predecessors.

The remaining years of Arroyo’s presidency hold not much promise anymore. She is just unable to institute the reforms that she promised to undertake during the last Edsa uprising. She vowed to stop graft and corruption – but her own husband and Cabinet members have been embroiled in charges of corruption. She vowed to crush jueteng, other forms of illegal gambling and the crime syndicates but her own police reports show a rise in their operations.

This is also the reason why in the recent economic summit, business leaders singled out criminality and graft and corruption as the chief obstacles to restoring investment confidence. Noting the recycling of personalities known for their corruption and cronyism under her presidency, the Transparency International, the London-based corruption watchdog recently reported that Mrs. Arroyo won’t be able to lick corruption – at least not during her term.


Congress, led by Arroyo’s own political allies, remains a bastion of traditional politics with its membership largely dominated by landlords and the business elite. Party-list representation has dropped considerably. The decision at the committee level to shoot down impeachment moves against Ombudsman Aniano Desierto speaks of the fate of other reformist initiatives. And moves are already afoot to revive measures that had been opposed by the people – the institutionallization of a national ID system and politically-motivated constitutional amendments.

At the pace by which plunder charges against ousted president Estrada are pursued at the Sandiganbayan and the mediocre performance of state prosecutors, nobody – the Plunder Watch included – believes that the accused will be convicted at all. What is emerging is the same pattern most Filipinos have seen in the country’s justice system – a legal circus and certainly, a travesty of truth and justice. It won’t be long before Arroyo would revive moves to cut a deal with the Estrada camp in order to eliminate a potential thorn to her 2004 election agenda.

By all indications, Arroyo has been unable to restore faith in the presidency and in the country’s so-called democratic institutions. She missed the opportunity opened by Edsa 2 to institute meaningful reforms. Whatever happened to her call for “new politics”? Some people describe her as a “transition president.” But some call her presidency the second betrayal of Edsa.  (Bulatlat.com)

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