Crisis And Disintegration Of The Arroyo Fascist Regime In The Philippines
*By E. San Juan, Jr.*
03 March, 2006
*"Ang sagot sa dahas ay dahas, kapag bingi sa katwiran."[The answer to force is force if the other party is deaf to reason.] �
**JOSE RIZAL, national hero of the Philippines*
*T*he end of the Arroyo fascist regime is fast approaching. It is bound to implode in one big catastrophic upheaval that will unleash violence and murderous abuses symptomatic of the decay of the bankrupt neocolonial system. Or it will exit peacefully if disciplined mass mobilization in the Metro Manila 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�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.
Events seem to be unfolding with a vengeance. Since her access to government power through the flawed 2004 electoral exercise, Gloria Arroyo has turned out to be a huge disappointment to those who supported her in People Power II as an alternative to Estrada. Arroyo was definitely not a Cory Aquino with the charisma of the martyred Ninoy. Arroyo's experience in politics conformed to the routine career of a member of local oligarchic dynasties; but her clan grew rich primarily from bureaucratic and business manipulation, not landlord exploitation. Today, criminal linkages surround
her family and cronies. She might appear for some to resemble Ferdinand Marcos�without the savvy and pretense to intellectual substance of the latter. Despite U.S. tutelage, Arroyo's managerial mode and policies demonstrate an essentially autocratic style of governance wholly subservient to the dictates of the World Bank, IMF, WTO, and the Washington Consensus.
Right from the beginning, Arroyo's ascendancy was characterized by rampant human rights violations. She presided over an unprecedented series of political assassinations of journalists, lawyers, church people, peasant leaders, women activists, and workers. The human rights group KARAPATAN has documented the brutalization of 169,530 individual victims, 18,515 families, 71 communities and 196 households. Arroyo has been tellingly silent over the killing and abduction of countless members of opposition parties and popular organizations. Most of those killed or "disappeared" belong to progressive groups such as Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Gabriela, Anakbayan, Karapatan, KMU, and others. They were protesting Arroyo's repressive taxation, collusion with foreign capital tied to oil and mining companies that destroy people's livelihood and environment, fraudulent use of public funds , and other anti-people measures. Such groups and individuals have been tagged as "communist fronts" by Arroyo's National Security Advisers, the military and
police; the latter agencies have been implicated in these ruthless atrocities. Just as what happened to the torturers of the Marcos regime, no one has been brought to trial and found responsible for any of the killings and other outrageous brutalities.
Meanwhile, Arroyo has hired a U.S. lobbying firm, Venable, for national governance. The US firm will ostensibly raise money for the modernization of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines). It will also propose crucial amendments to the Constitution so as to allow foreign ownership of land, public utilities, and the mass media. Charter change will be pushed through to permit Arroyo to retain power even under a new parliamentary set-up. To conciliate Washington, Arroyo is heeding the Bush administration's strategy of devising Anti-Terrorism Laws and National ID Systems to suppress the articulation of grievances by the poor, deprived majority. Because of severe unemployment, soaring prices of oil products and basic commodities, unjust salaries and wages, increased tax burdens, chronic corruption in
government, insufficient and costly social services, lack of genuine land reform, alarming proliferation of gambling, drugs, and State violence against ordinary citizens, millions of Filipinos, including landed elite, businessmen and professionals, have called for Arroyo's resignation (see March 2005 survey of Pulse Asia; Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 4, 2005).
Since 2004, Arroyo's administration suffered a stunningly rapid erosion of support from the traditional comprador and oligarchic segments of the ruling bloc. On one hand, the ousted Estrada camp has really never reconciled itself to its loss of power, given its populist tendencies and residual nationalist leaning. On the other hand, the Arroyo clique failed to offer a viable compromise to those excluded, given its dependence on bureaucratic corruption, extortions from business and other criminal activities. Never really interested in popular mobilization, the Arroyo clique has relied on bribery and other mendacious machinations. It operates with a narrow circle of parasitic generals, "trapos" (traditional politicians), and mediocre
hirelings from media and academy. Its popular base is non-existent. Its influence on landlord oligarchs and the Makati elite has always been superficial and precarious, mediated by brokers like Fidel Ramos, De Venecia, and assorted confidence tricksters. In short, Arroyo's mode of governance has always been fundamentally unstable, unconsolidated, and opportunistic.
One of the first signs of the vulnerability of Arroyo's position may be found in her yielding to the massive popular demand for withdrawal of Filipino troops in Iraq following the Angelo de la Cruz kidnapping. Of course, she tried to exploit its "nationalist" potential. But her continuing servility to Bush's imperialist aggression in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, together with her obedience to the WTO neoliberal program of privatization and deregulation, reinforced her utter dependency on global forces that only served to undermine her authority, her claim to
represent the Filipino nation. Arroyo followed Fidel Ramos in implementing the Visiting Forces Agreement, together with other onerous treaties, thus maintaining U.S. control of the Philippine military via training of officers, logistics, and dictation of policies toward the Moro insurgents as well as to the New People's Army guerillas. This is the profound legacy of the persisting colonial subjugation of the Philippines and the instrumentalization of the local bureaucracy and military to carry out U.S. imperial strategy in the first half of the twentieth-century up to Cold War anti-communist policies and the current "war against global terrorism." Without US support, the Filipino elite cannot sustain the oppression and
exploitation of the propertyless workers, peasants, and middle strata now driven to flee and settle in other lands.
This explains why the AFP continues to pursue a fanatical anti-communist program today even after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the capitalist reversal in China and in Eastern Europe. Its Christian chauvinist orientation militates against any pluralist outlook or even multiculturalist sympathy for the plight of the Bangsa Moro people and other indigenous communities (Igorots, Lumad) who have organized and armed themselves to fight for justice and dignity, for regaining their ancestral habitats.
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 (see Alfred McCoy's book, Closer Than Brothers, Yale University Press, 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 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.
Circumstance more than personality functions as the key determinant. Arroyo cannot rescue this coalition of conflicting political forces because of lack of the abundant foreign subsidies that Ferdinand Marcos then enjoyed. 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 US "war" to re-establish its global hegemony by systematic torture and unrelenting bombing.
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 compromises 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 mass exodus to the cities and outward, hence a million Filipinos leave every year for jobs abroad.
The failure of the inept corrupt regimes of Ramos, Estrada and Arroyo is also evidenced by the continuing Bangsa Moro insurgency led by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. In this context, the breakdown of the MNLF-Misuari accommodation also proves how fragile is the peace won by Malacanang bribery, coercion, and promises. Hence the need of the U.S. after the 9/11 attack to stigmatize the New People's Army and the Communist Party of the Philippines as terrorist organizations, capitalizing on the repulsive acts of the Abu Sayyaf and the pervasive climate of fear following the
bombings in Bali, Indonesia, and elsewhere. This will not stop the disintegration of the neocolonial order and the defeat of U.S. interventionary salvaging of its Frankenstein monster.
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.
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, the main source of dollar earnings required to pay the foreign debt. The remittance topped $18 billion last year, giving the impression that the country was becoming prosperous. Arroyo prematurely celebrated this index of an economic recovery entirely contingent on the unpredictable fluctuation of the global labor market.
This infamous "warm body export" has led to nearly ten million Filipinos displaced to 140 countries, chiefly as OCWs (Overseas 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.
Relentless corruption, cynical manipulation, and the outright lack of any concern for the people's welfare have distinguished Arroyo's unconscionable rule from its inception. Faced with the loss of moral and political legitimacy, Arroyo has institutionalized a pattern of terror throughout the country since taking the reins of government. Particularly with the election of party-list representatives from BayanMuna, killings, abductions and outright harassment of anyone criticizing the government have intensified.
The Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace has confirmed that the majority of human rights violations have been committed by the AFP, the Philippine National Police, and the CAFGU (Civilian Armed Forces Government Units). And this could not have occurred without the tacit or covert approval of Arroyo and her advisers. As the Promotion of Church People's Response put it in their Feb. 24 Statement: "GMA cheated her way to victory in the May 2004 elections, using public funds to secure votes in her favor and rig the election results�.GMA's record of political killings and violations of civil liberties, especially with her Calibrated Preemptive Response scheme, is now the worst since the downfall of Marcos."
Having reviewed the history of this current conjuncture, we take the position of denouncing President Arroyo's flagrant violation of the Philippine Constitution via the pretext of a "National Emergency." In truth, it is Arroyo's emergency. This has been convincingly demonstrated by the lawyers of CODAL (Counsels for the Defense of Liberties) and the Catholic Bishops. Arroyo's suppression of civil liberties and democratic freedoms imposed by Proclamation 1017, carried out by the military and police, opens the way to militarist brutal dictatorship similar to Ferdinand Marcos' authoritarian rule. Unlike Marcos, however, Arroyo does not have the full support of the comprador and landlord oligarchy; Ramos, Estrada, Aquino and other factions of the ruling class that they represent have demanded her resignation. Clearly these groups, with obvious support from the U.S., would prefer "business as usual"�a managed transition to a legitimate administration elected by the majority, with a program of economic and political reforms to solve rampant graft and corruption, endemic unemployment, deepening poverty and hopelessness of the masses. Can such a transition be peacefully administered by the traditional politicians (such as De Venecia) with U.S. patronage?
Utilizing the pretext of a coup by right, left and other anti-Arroyo forces, Arroyo issued Proclamation 1017 chiefly to intimidate, harass and selectively punish her critics. With her emergency powers, she has arrested all the duly-elected representatives of BAYAN MUNA, thus intimidating others who might voice criticism and protest. Her police and military have suppressed street demonstrations and public rallies, raided the offices of newspapers and other media, and threatened the arrest of hundreds, including such prestigious members of political dynasties such as Jose "Peping" Cojuangco. It appears, however, that Arroyo is using the usual "divide-and-rule" tactic, isolating the "communist" elements, frightening their allies, and threatening others with "warrantless arrests." Arroyo and her advisers believe that we are still engaged in the Cold War, fighting agents of the Soviet Union and Communist China. However, this bogey of a "coup" conspiracy fails to convince people because those arrested do not include the military officials that the regime has named as complicit in the plot to overthrow the Arroyo clique. Arroyo surely cannot afford to alienate the military hierarchy she depends on; but can she fool all the honest nationalist officers whose sympathies are with the people?
Arroyo's "National Emergency" decree arrogates to a clique or fraction of the ruling class the use of the coercive State apparatus (courts, police, all public offices and funds) to promote the interest of a few families and their extended retinues. It is foolish to say that Arroyo should be given a chance to explain. Since taking power in 2001, Arroyo has never explained the role of the AFP and PNP (Philippine National Police) in the killing or brutalization of thousands of peasants, workers, women, professionals, Moros, Lumads, and youth. No explanation has been given for the lack of decent jobs for thousands who leave everyday�over 100,000 nurses and doctors left in the last decade. No explanation for the collapse of the nation's health care system. No explanation for the violence against women, for the pollution of habitats, the neglect of OCWs raped and beaten and killed. No explanation for the hunger, diseases, and misery afflicting millions of Filipinos.
Devoid of any "check-and-balance' restraint from Congress or Court, Arroyo's martial-law terror has been unleashed chiefly on the progressive and nationalist sectors of the citizenry. Should we expect a massacre of Indonesian or Chilean proportions? Marcos tried to do it, but he had to compromise in the end. Clearly, today, the hand of the U.S. and its agents has been exposed in directing this selective dragnet, even as the US Embassy continues to refuse to surrender four American soldiers charged by the Philippine Court with rape. Meanwhile, thousands of U.S. Special Forces and their mighty warships are standing by, just in case�.
We join a multitude of people's organizations at home and abroad in this project of affirming popular democracy, social justice, and national sovereignty. Exposed for cheating, lying, and stealing the people's money, Arroyo's fascist rule can no longer claim even a semblance of legitimacy. Nor can the State apparatus controlled by Arroyo claim the authority that solely emanates from the Filipino people, assuming that a constitutional democratic republic is still the framework of order and security. The Arroyo regime's moral rottenness and political decay have precipitated its total repudiation and condemnation by the Filipino masses.
We call on all conscienticized Filipinos, democrats and nationalists to unite and rally against the Arroyo fascist group imposing terror on the whole country. Civil liberties promulgated in the 1987 Constitution and by the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights can only be guaranteed by public demonstrations, street rallies, strikes, and other visible manifestations of the exercise of social and civic rights. We call on all peoples around the world concerned with justice, democracy, and human dignity to express solidarity with the Filipino people in overthrowing the Arroyo regime, releasing all political prisoners, and restoring full and genuine sovereignty to the Filipino people.
E. San Juan, Jr. is the Director, Philippines Cultural Studies Center
Storrs, CT 06268, USA