Friday, March 03, 2006

State of Emergency and ChaCha

IBON Features Vol XII No. 6


Growing opposition to her presidency, further fueled by the economic crisis besetting the country, is preventing Arroyo from governing and pursuing her administration's neoliberal economic reform agenda, the crown jewel of which is Charter change

By Antonio Tujan

The political crisis currently confronting President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is a continuation of that which has been beleaguering her since 2005-allegations of corruption, her refusal to definitively address charges of election fraud stemming from the "Hello, Garci" tapes, and political unrest resulting from the economic crisis. At the height of the political unrest last year, the government itself started to experience a political unraveling similar but not as serious as that which occurred in the two years after Ninoy Aquino's assassination in 1983. Despite growing political unrest, however, government had all but admitted that there was clear and present threat to the Arroyo administration on February 24, when it issued Presidential Proclamation 1017 declaring the country under a state of emergency.

President Arroyo's justification that there was a "systematic conspiracy" by members of the political opposition, communist groups and "military adventurists" out to bring down her government has been belied by Armed Forces chief of staff, General Generoso Senga, who confirmed that there was no coup plot but a mere plan for officers and soldiers to join civilians in the February 24 EDSA rally and announce their withdrawal of support from President Arroyo. The alleged leader, Brigadier General Danilo Lim, was arrested in the early hours of Friday, way before the proclamation was made putting into doubt the real intentions for declaring a state of emergency. Is it panic? Overkill? Or something more?

It is possible that the administration panicked over a more real threat to the Arroyo administration-- its own political isolation from the masa who would easily be mobilized into another people power.

President Arroyo's issuance of PP 1017 stems directly from questions over her legitimacy and the growing campaign to oust her from office supported by various sectors of society. It takes to the logical extreme her tack of "flashing the badge" of authority in reaction to issues against her: "I am the president and let me continue my good work."

Growing opposition to her presidency, further fueled by the economic crisis besetting the country, is preventing her from governing and pursuing her administration's neoliberal economic reform agenda, the crown jewel of which is Charter change or Cha-cha. Hence, Arroyo must resort to authoritarian tactics to govern, necessitating the issuance of PP 1017. She had earlier issued the similarly unconstitutional Executive Order 464, which had hamstrung the 'uncooperative' Senate from looking into questionable dealings of her government by preventing government officials from appearing in legislative inquiries.

The US Agenda

It should also be noted that charter change is part of the US's economic agenda for the country since it would open the way for 100% participation of their corporations in sectors currently restricted under the 1987 Constitution, such as mass media and enterprises engaged in exploiting the country's natural resources.

US support was and is vital for Arroyo's continued stay in office. Statements of support starting with US President George W. Bush's endorsement in 2003 not only prove US patronage of the Arroyo administration, but had the desired effect last year on foreign and big business and their political instruments of providing strong public support for her. It was also crucial in shoring up support in the military bureaucracy as well as among reactionary centers within the country's institutions like the Catholic Church. Arroyo used this support to neutralize any big business or Church hierarchy consensus against her in the wake of the "Hello, Garci" scandal as what had happened to the Makati Business Club or the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines which were split on the issue of calling for her resignation.

Under US patronage, the Arroyo administration is pursuing charter change in earnest. In order to shortcut the process before Congress could turn itself into a Constituent Assembly, she formed a Presidential Consultative Commission (Con-Com) to draft a charter than can push the process of establishing a constituent assembly and at the same time hasten the work of that assembly. But she made sure that her interests would be protected in the transitory provisions, in particular through the 'no-elections' provision which will ensure the continuance of those in power and assure wide political support from incumbent officials.

The draft constitution produced by the Con-Com fulfilled the objectives of removing remaining restrictions to foreign investment in protected sectors, addressed calls for political reforms through a shift to a parliamentary government and a federal system while removing legal recourse to the courts to defend national patrimony and people's rights.

Media and civil society have been among the most vocal in their opposition to charter change, hence they were also among the main targets of PP 1017. The proclamation is similarly intended to have a chilling effect on legal 'destabilizers' and other critics of the Arroyo administration, silencing them with the threat of arrest or other forms of harassment.

Resorting to authoritarian mechanisms like PP 1017 is always a double-edged sword. It may simplify one's political problems through coercion but it also increases those problems as it solidifies broad opposition and their resolve to fight. This will make it harder for Arroyo to consolidate her power and push through her Charter change agenda.

Like a drug, Arroyo will be drawn into relying on coercive tactics and deeper and deeper into dictatorship. As former President Ferdinand Marcos started with a suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, he eventually consolidated his control over the military bureaucracy and other state institutions, and resorted to martial law power to force ratification of his 1973 constitution among others.

By resorting to PP 1017, Arroyo not only threatens further instability for the country but also intensifies her political problems beyond the accusations of election fraud and corruption. By resorting to PP 1017, Arroyo does not assure the success of her "Cha-cha" initiative similar to the Marcos 1973 Constitution but only strengthens allegations that the transitory provisions proposal for "no-el" is indeed meant to perpetuate herself in power.

In the meantime, media, civil society and other groups have no recourse but to resist leading to further unrest and fuelling possible military adventurism. Coupled with the underlying economic crisis that has led to unrest among the masa and even the middle class, these could all come together into the final crisis for the Arroyo government. IBON

Antonio Tujan Jr. is the research director of IBON Foundation.

IBON Features is a media service of IBON Foundation, an independent
economic policy and research institution. When reprinting this feature,
please credit IBON Features and give the byline when applicable.

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