Thursday, March 09, 2006

No wonder the public is up in arms --The Asahi Shimbun

Sometimes it is also worth our while to know how other people asses what is happening here. This one is from one of Japan's leading daily, Asahi Shimbun.


EDITORIAL/ Deja vu in the Philippines

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo lifted the state of emergency in her country after one week. The president said that an attempted coup was averted, but the political situation is unlikely to settle down for some time yet.

It has been 20 years since the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship was toppled by massive public protests. Five years ago, a revived "People Power" movement drove then-President Joseph Estrada to step down.

This time, too, it appeared that there would be an upsurge of public pressure on the president to resign. As a preemptive measure, Arroyo invoked the ultimate executive authority by declaring a state of emergency.

Arroyo claimed that a coup attempt by the military was the reason for the clampdown, and government authorities arrested many in the military as well as opposition party parliamentarians who are suspected of masterminding the movement. Newspaper companies critical of the government were subjected to searches.

It appears there were some grounds for Arroyo's suspicions of the military. Yet even her supporters, like former President Fidel Ramos, have said she went too far. Some analysts say the recent developments make it seem that the president feared the lingering spirit of People Power and set out to crush it.

The Arroyo government has been shaken by two scandals in the last year. Arroyo herself was accused of rigging the 2004 presidential election and members of her family have been accused of being involved in illicit gambling operations. There have been loud public calls for her resignation.

She weathered the storm by promising to revise the Constitution to reduce presidential power and switch to a parliamentary Cabinet system. She implied that she would step down after a constitutional amendment was passed.

Yet earlier this year there were signs that Arroyo would attempt to cling to power, and a crisis flared up again.

Arroyo cannot fix the situation with an iron fist. Unless she sticks to her promise to amend the Constitution and offers adequate explanations about the allegations against her and her relatives, the political situation in the Philippines will remain unstable.

The Philippines is the oldest democracy in Southeast Asia, yet that democracy has often been troubled, with citizens having to resort to People Power to make their voices heard. The country has been struggling to break that cycle.

Failed attempts to reform society and the economy are at the root of the country's persistent political unrest. Agricultural land reforms have stalled, and big landowners still act like feudal lords. Most Filipinos are poor, and 10 percent of the country's population--or 8 million people--work overseas to support their families.

Meanwhile, politicians and their cronies are amassing fortunes. The allegations of corruption against Arroyo and her family mirror those that ended Estrada's political career. No wonder the public is up in arms.

The Philippines is a founding member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The country should play a more active role in the economic and democratic development of this dynamic region.

This is no time to become trapped in a quagmire, sidetracked by the turmoil of political scandals.

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 4(IHT/Asahi: March 6,2006)

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