End of Year Report, 2007: Crisis in the Philippines

The year 2007 saw more of the same for this marvelous but tragic country: extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances; increasing poverty and very substantial hunger; widespread corruption across the entire system of governance and the “market”; and an increasing militarization across the islands. Some commentators speak of a growing “Myanmarization” of the country.

BY GILL H. BOEHRINGER
Contributed to Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 47, January 6-12, 2008

The year 2007 saw more of the same for this marvelous but tragic country: extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances; increasing poverty and very substantial hunger; widespread corruption across the entire system of governance and the “market”; and an increasing militarization across the islands. Some commentators speak of a growing “Myanmarization” of the country. Not surprisingly, in view of the degree to which the highly unpopular President, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, is surrounded by senior officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police-serving and “retired.” At a last rough count, they number two dozen, including her Executive Secretary and a number of her close advisors, as well as a handful in her cabinet. Many Filipinos see this encirclement as the reason that during her reign there have been about 1200 killings and disappearances by military forces without any sustained attempt to solve the cases. This has brought international disgrace to the Republic (e.g. in the recently released report by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and violence, Philip Alston, who noted that the military was in a “state of denial” over these incidents. They have been carefully documented by the human rights organization, Karapatan/Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights).

Two major incidents were also in the mix this year. First, in May, massive fraud, violence and military/police intervention marred the national mid-term elections for the Philippine Congress (and thousands of local elections). This followed on from the 2004 Presidential election in which Mrs. Arroyo was recorded – by the Intelligence section of the Armed Forces of the Philippines! – secretly arranging, by telephone, with an official of the national Commission on Elections (Comelec) to manipulate the vote tally so she would win another term. In the event she won, but the matter still stinks in the nostrils of most Filipinos, particularly since the matter has never been properly investigated, largely it seems through bribery and intimidation by the Arroyo camp. Further, many, probably the majority, Filipinos see her as being illegitimate since she took office in 2001 by a political plot whereby the then President, and still hugely popular Joseph Estrada, was forced out of office-and into detention for six years without trial. As she was Vice-President at the time (and a top plotter along with her mentor, former President and General Fidel Ramos). she was installed by a compliant Supreme Court which held there had been a “constructive resignation” (an attempt at impeachment had failed). The former President was accused of…corruption!

Second, in November, a group of progressive military radicals staged a revolt by walking out of a court where they were being tried, finally, for a previous revolt in 2003. They had been in detention without trial for 4 years and decided to make a demonstration, as they had in 2003, that there was significant support in the military for getting rid of the Arroyo administration. In 2003, and again in 2006, there were declarations by the demonstrating military of “withdrawal of support” for what was seen as a corrupt and destructive regime. In 2006 Arroyo called a state of emergency and, as in 2003, detained those involved.

In the most recent revolt in November, the officers and enlisted men were joined by a small number of civil society dissidents at the Peninsula Hotel which they commandeered after a two hour slow march through the economic heartland of Manila. Many sectors of society were represented, including progressive activist groups and the Churches. Thousands more were ready to join them at the Hotel, I have been told. How many and how well organized is hard to tell. But it is known that the army and police response was swift, violent and effective. It seems that by their response-road-blocks in and around Manila, then a quick strike at the Peninsula-the support of the masses was not forthcoming. At the Hotel, armoured vehicles fired at the building, then pierced the front doors which had been lightly barricaded. Hundreds of heavily armed troops poured into the Hotel and arrested pretty much everyone in sight including the media representatives who were trying to get the story from the inside. All were put on buses and armoured vehicles and carted off to jail. For once the media denounced the repression and recalled the similarities to the hated Marcos regime.

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