This repeatable scenario is the profound legacy of the persisting colonial subjugation of the Philippines and the instrumentalization of the local bureaucracy and military to carry out the U.S. imperial strategy in the first half of the twentieth-century up to the Cold War anti-communist policies and the current racialized “war against global terrorism.” Without US support, the Filipino elite cannot sustain the oppression and exploitation of millions of propertyless workers, peasants, and middle strata now driven to flee and settle in other lands.
As a token of obedience to her U.S. sponsors, Arroyo has hired a U.S. lobbying firm, Venable, for advice on national governance. The US firm will ostensibly raise money for the modernization of the AFP. It will also propose crucial amendments to the Constitution so as to allow foreign ownership of land, public utilities, and the mass media. Charter change will be pushed through to permit Arroyo to retain power even under a new parliamentary set-up. To conciliate Washington, Arroyo is heeding the Bush administration’s scheme of devising Anti-Terrorism Laws and National ID Systems to suppress the articulation of grievances by the poor, deprived majority (on U.S. state terrorism, see Ahmad 2001). Because of severe unemployment, soaring prices of oil products and basic commodities, unjust salaries and wages, increased tax burdens, chronic corruption in government, insufficient and costly social services, lack of genuine land reform, alarming proliferation of gambling, drugs, and State violence against ordinary citizens, millions of Filipinos, including landed elite, bishops, businessmen and professionals, have called for Arroyo’s resignation (see March 2005 survey of Pulse Asia; Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 4, 2005).
Any president of the Republic since nominal independence in 1946 is always a compromise post or function negotiated among the class sectors (landlords, compradors, bureaucrat capitalists) and the U.S. This time, however, the post has become an arena of fierce internecine struggle. Since 2004, Arroyo’s faction suffered a stunningly rapid erosion of support from the traditional comprador and oligarchic segments of the ruling bloc. On one hand, the ousted Estrada camp has really never reconciled itself to its loss of power, given its populist tendencies and residual social-democratic leaning. On the other hand, the Arroyo clique failed to offer a viable opening to those excluded and marginalized, given its dependence on bureaucratic corruption, extortions, raids on the public treasury, and other criminal activities.
Arroyo usurped power through EDSA II, a mass phenomenon taken over by the excluded fractions of the elite. In that process, it was presumed that authority derived from her charismatic figure, not from the rational-legal normative rules attached to the office which were suspended, supplemented by the mystique of tradition. Belief in her legitimacy collapsed with her election. So Arroyo confused the right to act as President with the power of commanding assent; belief in one’s authority became crucial (Scruton 1982). Power customarily derived from the power-brokers, the AFP. While habit and custom maintained routine patterns of obedience particularly from the wealthy and middle class, ordinary citizen’s belief in Arroyo’s legitimacy dissolved when the hugely popular Fernando Poe lost the election. Eventually Arroyo’s legitimacy evaporated with the Garci revelations, replaced with bureaucratic State power and its arbitrary, contingent implementation.
How can one insure belief in one’s legitimacy if such belief is based on coercion or trickery? A national consensus resolving class antagonisms, the foundation of oligarchic hegemony, has failed to materialize. The regime may be able to maintain order in urban areas, but it has miserably failed to deliver adequate government services and socially constructive, inspiring directives to society at large.
Except for maintaining the services of the police and military, Arroyo’s administrative apparatus has been harnessed chiefly for regime survival. Never really interested in generating mass consent or popular mobilization, the Arroyo clique has relied on bribery and other insidious machinations. It operates with a narrow circle of parasitic generals, “trapos” (traditional politicians), and mediocre functionaries from the mass media and the academy. Its popular base is non-existent. Its influence on landed oligarchs, professional strata, and the business/commercial elite has always been superficial and precarious, mediated by brokers like Fidel Ramos, De Venecia, and assorted confidence tricksters.
In addition, religious fundamentalism reinforces the passivity and conservatism of the middle elements who either play blind or tolerate repression for short-term utilitarian expedience. In short, Arroyo’s mode of governance (for as long as it succeeds) has always been essentially corporatist, reactionary, opportunistic.
Cold War ghouls
In the past, the neocolonial order survived popular insurrections through a combined strategy of exacting consent and applying coercion. In the fifties of the last century, Magsaysay’s strategy of “All-out Friendship or All-out Force” mixed military suppression and economic-political reforms to counter the Huks. W. Wertheim (1974) questions whether Magsaysay’s strategy of joining “a right hand’ mailed-fist policy with a “left hand” reformist one, is a genuine alternative to social revolution. The history of the last fifty years demonstrates that such classic doctrine of U.S. counterinsurgency may create temporary “breathing space” for the exploiters (such as the “total war” policy of Corazon Aquino), but ultimately perpetuates and even worsens the social conditions that generate discontent, anarchy, and rebellion.
One should interject here the socio-historical context of counterinsurgency politics. The Philippine social formation is still basically tributary and disarticulated, with non-class social alignments (status identity tied to religion, gender, etc.) juxtaposed with primary class antagonisms. The main contradiction is still between the popular-democratic classes (peasants, workers and middle strata) and the comprador/landlord/bureaucrat-capitalist bloc supported by the United States (Sison and De Lima 1998). One consequence of the political economy of underdevelopment of capitalist production relations and the persistence of clientelist, quasi-feudal relations is the erasure of the value of human rights, both individual and social.