Forgetting and not knowing

Vantage Point | BusinessWorld

In an attempt to validate his earlier claim that the country is under threat from “creeping martial law” during the Aquino III administration, Senator Joker Arroyo said last Tuesday that the Marcos martial law regime used the exact same argument — that the police powers of the State are superior to individual rights — the Aquino government is using to justify preventing Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from leaving the country.

Senator Arroyo made his “creeping martial law” statement last November, echoing Negros Occidental Congressman Ignacio “Iggy Pidal” Arroyo’s claim, made at about the same time that the administration’s stopping his sister-in-law from leaving the country supposedly for medical treatment abroad was worse than what was happening during the martial law period (officially from 1972 to 1981, although Ferdinand Marcos retained dictatorial powers until his overthrow in 1986).

This week, the former human rights lawyer found an opportunity to expand on his thesis by referring to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s argument before the Supreme Court last Monday that the government had to prevent Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from leaving the country so it can prosecute her for allegedly sabotaging the elections of 2007.

“Secretary de Lima mentioned the conflict between individual rights versus the right of the state to survive. That was the same issue during the 14 years of martial law when the right of the state to survive was considered superior to individual rights. That’s why police powers were always invoked during that time,” said Arroyo. In so many words, Arroyo was saying that if the Aquino administration is curtailing the rights of one individual in behalf of the rights of the State, it could raise the same argument in other cases, thus endangering everyone else’s rights.

On one point at least was Senator Arroyo right. The Marcos regime did argue that the State had to defend itself to justify the violation of individual rights. But so did the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime — except that it didn’t say so in so many words; it simply acted on that presumption. What’s worse was that the Arroyo regime was actually undermining the State by, among other self-serving initiatives, committing electoral fraud, orchestrating the most egregious violations of human rights since the martial law period, and subverting Philippine sovereignty through its shameless efforts to curry favor with the US government.

If there was ever any regime that because of its corruption and putrid human rights record was worse than the martial law regime, it was that of Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo’s sister-in-law. And if there has ever been a regime since 1986 in which the martial law virus had so infected Malacañang and the police and military on which it depended most for survival and dominance murder had become a leading State industry, it was Mrs. Arroyo’s.

The irony is that the regime was undermining the State almost from day one, when the murder of human rights workers, political activists, Church people, journalists and even local officials began to escalate, culminating in 2009 with the massacre of 58 men and women on November 23 in the turf of one of Mrs. Arroyo’s most favored warlords. By that time over a thousand men and women had been murdered, hundreds more had been abducted and tortured by State security forces, and the Philippines had become the poster child of impunity.

The murders, abductions and torture that were so much a feature of the regime were not only in violation of Philippine and international law. As attacks on citizens they were also attacks on the State itself, the citizenry being its most vital component.

Mrs. Arroyo’s alleged sabotage of Philippine elections was equally subversive of the State, and qualified her, rather than the party-list, student and journalist groups as well as civil society organizations that were in her police and military’s list of “enemies of the State,” as an even more dangerous threat. Elections are after all a key element in State pretensions to democracy. By undermining their credibility, the Arroyo clique made citizen cynicism over the validity of election outcomes inevitable, and therefore undermined one of the few means through which citizens could delegate their sovereign powers to officials of their choice.

As if the assault on the Constitution and whatever remained of democracy the regime was systematically carrying out were not enough, by politicizing them the Arroyo regime also damaged such other State institutions as the Commission on Elections, the Civil Service, the Legislature, and the Supreme Court. In her drive to keep US support for her dubious presidency, Mrs. Arroyo also gave the Bush administration a blank check in terms of supporting whatever initiatives it would take — whether it was bullying the weak, intimidation, outright invasion, a war on civilians, or assassinations — in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Under Arroyo rule the State was devouring itself.

Among the consequences of the nine-year Arroyo regime is a State so weakened by its own supposed protectors the country has been reduced to chaos. Simple justice has become a prime commodity in a judicial system riddled with corruption. The legislature, in which four Arroyos and an Imelda Marcos are in cocky residence, has been reduced to a debating club among dynasts who talk only to each other. The police establishment has made torture the standard means of “solving” cases, whether simple theft to murder.

In addition to its mastery of torture and murder, the corruption-ridden military has become the private army of its generals and their patrons in politics and business. Thieves, murderers, and plunderers populate the bureaucracy. And foreign relations have been reduced to no more than a patron-client arrangement in which the country does the bidding of whoever can best threaten, cajole or buy it.

While all these had happened before, never have all of them happened all at once, and on the same scale as during the Arroyo regime. That truth makes Secretary de Lima’s argument compelling: the protection of the State has never been more urgent than in the aftermath of the Arroyo regime, primarily because of what that regime has inflicted on the country of our sorrows. Crucial to that protection is the imperative to hold Mrs. Arroyo and her accomplices to account, the alternative being even worse lawlessness and chaos, and total State failure. Though unable to articulate it, the Aquino administration knows in its bones that to preserve itself and the entire political class of which Mrs. Arroyo and company were a particularly negative example, it must take the necessary steps to halt the already advanced process of State decay and failure.

During the martial law period, the Marcos regime was absolutely wrong in putting the rights of the State above those of ordinary citizens. The only offense of the men and women it murdered, imprisoned and tortured was to demand delivery of the promises of the Philippine Revolution: the making of an independent State, the achievement of social justice, the equitable distribution of wealth. Mrs. Arroyo and company were not engaged in the same socially-redeeming pursuits, but in totally anti-social, self-serving, personal, familial, class, and ultimately anti-State ends. The pity of it is not that Ignacio Arroyo can’t distinguish between what Marcos and his sister-in-law did and what the Aquino government is attempting, but that Joker Arroyo can no longer tell the difference.

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Published in Business World
8 December 2011

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