Politics in 2009: Arroyo Regime Brought Philippines Deeper Into Crisis


MANILA — The Arroyo administration is, hopefully, about to end its term by the middle of next year. Lasting for nine years and a half, it is the longest-running presidency since the Marcos dictatorship. In fact, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is second only to Ferdinand E. Marcos who, for 20 years, held the reins of power the longest in the country’s history. But the similarities between the Marcos dictatorship and the Arroyo government do not end with them having the longest terms.

They both grabbed power when the country, and the world, was in deep economic crisis. By Marcos’s second term, in 1969, the world was moving toward a deep economic crisis, which resulted in the US being the world’s biggest debtor from being its biggest creditor. The value of the dollar plunged, thereby causing the devaluation of all currencies tied to it, such as the Philippine peso. The turn of the decade signaled a shift from the World War II-era Keynesian economics to neoliberal economics, or what we now call globalization, which is actually a drive to fully open up the economies of underdeveloped countries to foreign trade and investments. This pushed the Philippines deeper into economic crisis such that Marcos had to declare martial law to keep himself in power because the Filipino people’s protest actions were intensifying since the “First Quarter storm” of 1970. At the same time, the contradictions between the ruling elite was also worsening with the opposition led by the late senator Benigno Aquino Jr. and erstwhile Marcos ally, the late vice president Fernando Lopez, denouncing Marcos and his corrupt practices.

When Arroyo was catapulted to power via People Power II in 2001, the world was also being rocked by a crisis. The US, which until March 2000 was the only country that seemingly was shielded from the crisis, was already reeling from the bursting of the “high-tech or dot-com bubble.” The Filipino people, already feeling the effects of the crisis, were moved to action because of former president Joseph Estrada’s brazen display of profligacy amid the worsening poverty. The ruling elite was also hopelessly divided, with Arroyo, who was then vice-president, joining the opposition a few months before Estrada’s ouster.

While both Marcos in the 1970s and Arroyo in 2001 promised to usher in a new government that would supposedly benefit the people, the Marcos and Arroyo regimes pushed the country deeper into crisis.

By the end of the Marcos dictatorship the country was deeply indebted, prices were skyrocketing, unemployment and poverty had reached new highs, and all institutions of government were warped by the unbridled power and corruption under martial law. “Never again to martial law” became the people’s rallying call.

Also, by the end of the dictatorship, the divisions within the ruling elite were even deeper as manifested by the series of coups d’ etat that the Aquino government had to face and the unprecedented number of presidential aspirants — seven — during the 1992 elections. Another sign of the worsening political and economic crisis then was the increasing strength of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA- NDFP).

Now that the Arroyo government is about to end (hopefully), prices have reached new highs in spite of the low inflation rates reported by the government; the country is experiencing the longest-running high unemployment and underemployment rates: as of July 2009, there are 4.3 million unemployed, 7 million underemployed, and 20.3 million either in “unpaid family work” (3.8 million), “own account” (12 million), and non-regular wage and salary workers (4.5 million); and the country is about to confront another round of fiscal crisis in 2010 with the deficit expected to reach P293 billion as per Finance Secretary Margarito Teves’s estimate. It could be remembered that the first fiscal crisis under the Arroyo government occurred in 2002 prompting Arroyo to promise, on Rizal Day, that she would not run again — a promise that she, of course, did not fulfill. Poverty has also worsened.

All institutions of government have likewise been warped by the impunity in corruption and bribery, electoral fraud, attacks on civil liberties and political killings. The Arroyo government has recorded the second highest number of extrajudicial killings at 1,118, second only to Marcos, and the third highest in enforced disappearances at 204. The Aquino government had the most number of enforced disappearances at more than 600 and the Marcos dictatorship second. However, only the Arroyo government has, as part of its counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya, clearly targeted legal political activists for “neutralization”. Marcos’s record of preemptively arresting leaders of activist organizations prior to planned protests actions pales in comparison to the Arroyo policy of subjecting all legal political activists to harassments, killings and abductions. The country may not be under martial law but it has become the most dangerous place for journalists. If the Arroyo government had its way — without the Filipino people protesting — civil liberties could have been severely constricted by now. She did try to experiment with martial law in Maguindanao but it was met by protests from a broad segment of society even as everybody feels the need for swift justice for the Amptuan massacre.

The divisions within the ruling elite have likewise deepened as manifested by the extreme isolation of the Arroyo government, the restlessness within the ranks of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP), and the six-cornered fight for the presidency. The Ampatuan massacre has raised the level of barbarity in Philippine politics. Arroyo’s fear of stepping down from power — thus her attempts at charter change and her bid for a Congress seat — is also a manifestation that the contradictions within the ruling elite have sharpened so much that she no longer feels secure after May 2010. Also, the strength of the CPP-NPA-NDFP has continued to grow despite Arroyo’s desperate militarist efforts to put an “end to the insurgency.”

While it would take more than a change in president to effectively address the worsening economic and political crisis, if Arroyo and her minions are able to get away with keeping themselves in power — by declaring a failure of elections, martial law, or charter change — the Filipino people would sink faster and deeper into the quagmire of backwardness and poverty. (Bulatlat.com)

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