This story was taken from Bulatlat, the Philippines's alternative weekly newsmagazine (,,
Vol. V, No. 19, June 19-25, 2005



Time for a Change

The current presidential crisis may be a threat to Macapagal-Arroyo but it is also an opportunity for the nation to wrestle with the fundamental question on what is the best solution.

By Bobby Tuazon

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo faces the biggest threat to her presidency and how she is able to handle this will determine whether she will complete her term in 2010 or not. Looked at a different angle, the current political crisis in the Philippines poses as well an opportunity for the Filipino people led by the organized masses to seize the initiative to advance their democratic interests and prepare for the transition in the transfer of political power from the elite to the people long oppressed by centuries of colonial, neo-colonial and elite domination.

Macapagal-Arroyo assumed the presidency on the crest of Edsa 2 – the people’s uprising of January 2001 that toppled President Joseph Estrada who was accused of corruption and other crimes. She won the presidential race in May last year amid allegations of widespread fraud, manipulating the Commission on Elections (Comelec) – a supposedly independent poll body – as well as using the military and police forces to ensure her victory.

The allegations that she cheated in the last polls and stole the presidency from actor-turned-politician Fernando Poe, Jr. have gained credence following an expose’ by a former deputy director of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), lawyer Samuel Ong. In a news conference more than a week ago, Ong showed reporters CDs containing conversations supposedly captured by wiretapping that showed the President clearly directing Comelec officials to enable her to clinch the election. The wiretapping – in what is now billed as “Gloriagate” – has triggered calls from almost all quarters of the political spectrum for Macapagal-Arroyo to resign from the presidency.

That Macapagal-Arroyo is an illegitimate president is just the latest of a series of accusations hurled against her that include corruption, jueteng (an illegal numbers game) and human rights violations. Before all these charges came up however she – like her predecessors – was already proving to be unfit to rule. Since the time she became president the country has sunk deeper into a financial crisis and has seen the worst-ever unemployment in 50 years. The country’s endemic poverty has been aggravated by policies of new taxation, price increases and destructive pro-globalization programs. There is a total breakdown of law and order as seen in the series of killings victimizing media, lawyers and judges.

Most corrupt

Under her watch, the country has earned the moniker of being the most corrupt in the whole of Asia. Macapagal-Arroyo also used her “war on terror” as an instrument of state terrorism against legitimate political dissent and for escalating militarization in the countryside allowing military and police forces to commit atrocities with impunity and undermine civilian rule.

Although Macapagal-Arroyo as president is the center of the current political controversy, the situation cannot simply be called a presidential crisis warranting the removal of the current occupant of Malacañang and the takeover by another. If this were the case, it will not essentially end the vicious process of tolerating ineptness and incompetence as exemplified by a revolving door where one inept president exits and another of the same mold enters the seat of power. This process simply reconstructs and reinvents the elite-oriented political system that takes its roots in colonial and neocolonial rule where the bureaucracy is used to support the economic and political hegemony of the old and new elite and foreign interests.

If a beginning is to be made in order to end the vicious cycle of presidential crisis, then the current political situation needs looking into its fundamental roots. There needs to be a deep understanding of the termites and cancer-causing elements that are eroding into the seat of presidential power and the system that it embodies while, at the same time, fueling a social unrest that is dramatized by mass protests, strikes and armed struggle.

Without delving into its deep historical roots, the current political crisis can be traced to the declaration of martial law by Ferdinand Marcos in 1972. The imposition of martial rule was a rightist coup staged by Marcos as the head of the faction of the ruling oligarchy in order to stay in power indefinitely based on dictatorship. While the declaration disenfranchised the anti-Marcos camp from power it also forced the emerging radical reform option represented by the militant youth and the organized farmers and workers into the underground.

Rift in the factions

The ascendance of the fascist dictatorship showed the irreconcilability of the various factions of the ruling elite on the fractious issue of the turnover of political power among them and that such archaic process could no longer be sustained through election – which had become inutile anyway as a “democratic exercise” – or the whole bourgeois constitutional machinery itself. It also showed that the dominant elite-oriented political system will not – must not - submit itself to any alternative radical reform even if the society itself is already pregnant with a surgical solution for the poverty, inequality and social injustice that it continues to breed. Thus the use of a coercive response through fascist rule.

For the dictatorship to last, Marcos relied on the military institution, political repression, the support of the United States and a democratic façade through the 1973 constitution, the holding of the Interim Batasang Pambansa elections in 1978 – which his monolithic party, the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (New Society Movement), dominated anyway - and the symbolic “lifting” of martial law in 1981. Martial law also strengthened the military institution and gave its generals a lesson that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) can be a source of corruption as well as a political force by itself on the pretext of promoting “political stability” and deterring a leftist takeover. This would be put into good use later during the Aquino presidency – which was wracked by a series of attempted coups and mutinies - and in the Macapagal-Arroyo presidency.

Confluence of events

It was the perseverance of the people led by the radical reformists and the armed struggle of the Left and the Moro separatist guerillas that undercut Marcos power. This eventually led to its fall through the confluence of an acute financial crisis and a nationwide anti-dictatorship struggle that grew by the multitudes following the assassination of an anti-Marcos opposition leader.

The role of the U.S. proved to be critical at this point and the years to unfold in the change of the presidency. To frustrate the Left from positioning itself in the turnover of power and many anti-Marcos rivals from gravitating toward it, the U.S. began to withdraw its support for Marcos and worked for his replacement by a “Third Force” – led by Corazon Aquino - that Washington architects helped shape and finance. In order to reconcile both the pro-Aquino elite and the Marcos cronies, however, the new government had to accommodate these various political camps with the military institution itself making sure that those perceived to be pro-Left were gradually eased out. What actually took over, as a Washington political analyst would put it, was “Marcos without Marcos.”

Material to the legitimization and validation of any presidency is its ability to deliver the goods, i.e., to address the fundamental problems of poverty, inequality and social injustice that breed the conditions for social unrest. Precisely because both the Aquino leadership and the various regimes succeeding it assumed power not necessarily to address these fundamental problems but to save the traditional political system that began to crumble during Marcos – and to promote their own class interests as well - no government after him could deliver such goods.

That the country today has seen an unprecedented economic crisis as shown, for instance, by the fact that 10 percent of Filipinos are forced to work abroad – with many of them willing to toil in war zones just to feed their own families at home - and that more and more families are starving by the day signifies the futility of hanging on to a political rule that has long lost its legitimacy. One need only look at the surveys of the Social Weather Station or the surveys of Ibon Foundation showing how Aquino, Ramos and Estrada, began their presidency supposedly with a high popularity rating and ended up being discredited with plunging ratings at the end of their term. Compared to them, Macapagal-Arroyo is supposed to be the lowest by far in terms of public perception. And she hasn’t even reached her mid-term.

A complex matter

Today, the presidential succession is no longer simply a matter of who replaces who. This is as much a question that must be wrestled with by the people themselves in their millions, in short, how to become masters of their own destiny. It is a question of ending a political rule that ensures the domination by the rich and powerful over the majority of Filipinos under conditions of exploitation, oppression and repression. It is a question of terminating a political rule that promotes foreign interests at the expense of the country’s sovereignty and national patrimony.

Can the country continue to be governed under an already discredited presidency? If the current illegitimate president is replaced by constitutional fiat or succession, will this not cause the country further harm? If it is replaced by a military junta with a civilian façade, will we not be reverting to Marcos-type authoritarian rule? What then is the next move? What is the Filipino people’s choice? Bulatlat


© 2004 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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