But this AFP subservience to Washington does not insure the absence of internal rifts and breakdown of “professionalism” due to abuses and corruption of the politicized officer ranks (McCoy 2000). This is a pattern which has almost become institutionalized for lack of any genuine democratic, nationalist ethos, given the function of this organ of government (established by the U.S. colonial authority) to suppress the revolutionary forces of the first Philippine Republic, the Moro Sultanate resistance, and numerous peasant insurrections (including the Huk uprising) constantly reproduced by the fierce class divisions in a semi-feudal and neocolonized formation. It is doubtful if a Hugo Chavez, or even a middling clone, can germinate from this Pentagon-supervised organ of repression.
We can thus understand the “Hello Garci” episode, following the Oakwood “Mutiny,” as a symptom of the internal divisions in the AFP and the loss of Arroyo’s full control. Whatever sliver of moral legitimacy Arroyo’s administration still possessed then, gradually dissolved in the AFP squabbles caused by this exposure. Not even her successful attempt to stop impeachment proceedings in Congress could really repair the rupture of political legitimacy dating back to the May 2004 elections. The “Hello Garci” scandal may be read as a symptom of the advanced disintegration of the comprador-landlord hegemony eviscerated by the Marcos dictatorship, temporarily revived by Cory Aquino, and given extension by Fidel Ramos’ mock-utopian resuscitation of Marcosian rhetoric.
Political economy of violence
Circumstance more than personality functions as the key determinant in this political conjuncture. Given the deterioration of infrastructure, lack of substantive investments for industry and agriculture, and the reliance on dollar remittance, this class compromise cannot endure for long. Resources for the reproduction of the means of violence and its machinery are in short supply. Resort to State violence cannot make up for the structural problems of underdevelopment, permanent indebtedness, and subordination to corporate global capital. Arroyo cannot rescue her coalition of conflicting political allies because of lack of the abundant foreign subsidies that Ferdinand Marcos then enjoyed, among other reasons. This is worsened by the depletion of natural resources and educated social capital (due to emigration, breakdown of schooling, etc.) and the strict limits of local capital accumulation (no independent industrial ventures) due to the pressures of globalization and the U.S. “war” to re-establish its global hegemony by systematic torture and unrelenting bombing. In effect, the systematic political killing and repression we are witnessing today may be seen as the convulsive death-pangs of the Arroyo short-term compromise.
Arroyo has no other way out. The Economic Crisis of 1997-1998 destroyed any illusions of the Philippines becoming a new Asian Tiger. While Ramos and Estrada offered concessions to the working people and the intelligentsia, they failed to halt the advance of the armed struggle in the countryside and the national-democratic social movements in the cities. Civil society continues its resurgence despite State/military repression. With a profit-centered neoliberal hegemony in control, the unimpeded impoverishment of the countryside has resulted in the mass exodus to the cities and outward, hence a million Filipinos leave every year for jobs abroad. With competition from India, China, Vietnam and Indonesia, the Philippines cannot solve unemployment, poverty, and popular discontent by the regime-survival methods of arrests, abductions, and summary executions.
Marcos’ institutionalization of “the warm body export” in 1974 to tax the poor and relieve labor-peasant unrest has structured the economy to be wholly dependent on regular remittances of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW), the main source of dollar earnings required to pay the burgeoning foreign debt. The remittance topped $18 billion last year, giving the impression that the country was becoming prosperous and taking off. Arroyo prematurely celebrated this index of an economic recovery entirely contingent on the unpredictable fluctuation of the global labor market.
A scandal of historic proportion, dwarfing the massive human-rights violations, is this infamous “warm body export” that threatens to deterritorialize the nation-state. It has led to nearly ten million Filipinos transported or displaced to 140 countries, chiefly as contract workers in poorly paid jobs (mainly as domestics, caregivers, and semi-skilled labor), often victimized by unscrupulous racist employers, abandoned by their own government to fend for themselves—an average of five OCW corpses arrive each day at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. These “New Heroes” (“mga bagong bayani” to Cory Aquino) are now clamoring for Arroyo’s ouster, despite her humorless projection of Filipina “super-maids” as the solution to the misery and poverty of the vast majority.
Meanwhile, structural conditionalities continue to extract enormous debt payments to the World Bank and other financial consortiums, draining two-thirds of the social wealth of the Philippines and depriving education and other social services of sorely needed funds. Neoliberalizing schemes enforced by U.S.-dominated agencies (WTO, IMF) continue to inflict havoc and misery on the majority of 86 million Filipinos. It has bred criminality, worsened corruption, inflamed reactionary Christian fundamentalism, and exposed everyone to the wrath of natural disasters (witness the Leyte flood, a repeat of previous devastating calamities in Luzon and elsewhere). It has contributed to the staging of the Wowowee tragedy, a glaring symptom of how the iniquitous system gambles the dreams of the desperate millions.
Unrepeatable history lesson
What Arroyo and her advisers are doing is neither original nor innovative, as the historical survey I have sketched earlier clearly show. The resort to seemingly uncontrolled political killings by para-military death squads in Central and Latin America in the seventies and eighties was a tactic of U.S. imperialist intervention to counteract popular, nationalist revolutions in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Argentina, Chile and elsewhere. This is being repeated in the Philippines, with a crucial difference: the Arroyo regime is a fragile, incoherent product of a unique historical conjuncture in Philippine history. Supported by the Bush administration, the Arroyo regime is a vehicle of comprador/landlord/capitalist domination of the working masses that has lost popular consent, dating back to the martial-law despotism of Ferdinand Marcos to the back-room dealings of Ramos and Estrada. With the dynamics of “People Power” exhausted, the Arroyo class fraction is forced to resort to bribery, fraud, deception, and state terrorism.
The Arroyo clique deploys this mode of preserving its illegitimate rule in a time when the local comprador-landlord oligarchy is split, the military bureaucracy is riddled with dissension, and its neoliberal policies are challenged by popular opposition
(including significant sectors of church people, indigenous communities, and the fractured Moro separatist movement). Extra-judicial murders of its legal critics is a symptom of the regime’s structural weakness (failure of the court system, the parliament, legal institutions, and other state ideological apparatus); however, its persistence can demoralize the democratic resistance and lead to a de jure consolidation of the most rightist and reactionary elements of the system. Arroyo may aspire to a compromise of ruling-class elements via a constitutional dictatorship (mediated through charter change and repressive ordinances) but, given the dependency of the State on remittances and the extremely unstable global market, U.S. rightist militarism (now suffering intolerable defeats), and the internal contradictions of the local elite also beleaguered by grassroots refusals, she can only desperately cling to power by prolonging the fragmentation of the resistance and the acquiescence of the venal, corruptible parts of the bureaucratic-military apparatus.
The impending disintegration of the Arroyo regime is evidenced by its resort to intimidation, bureaucratic repression, and death squads. It is bound to implode in one big catastrophic upheaval that will unleash indiscriminate violence and dehumanizing abuses symptomatic of the advanced decay of the bankrupt neocolonial system. Or it will exit peacefully if disciplined mass mobilization in the MetroManila area and elsewhere can prevent the regime’s deployment of whatever armed elements it can use to postpone its ruin. To be sure, U.S. intervention—military and diplomatic—will try to save its lackeys, or sacrifice them for a new set of servants who will do Washington’s bidding, namely, U.S.-tutored military officers and unscrupulous business technocrats tied to transnational financial-corporate interests. Either way, there is no escape from the intensifying crisis of a moribund clientelist system ridden with irresolvable contradictions. In due time, this tactic of gangster rule will implode and force the U.S. and its local agents to replace the Arroyo clique with one that can command a plausible consensus without resort to unmitigated criminal machinations. This moment will be determined by the emergence of a new class realignment and, more importantly, by the critical unity of the nationalist, democratic and progressive forces.