Dark Days for Philippine Democracy
Published: April 5, 2006
Filipinos thought they had put an end to electoral chicanery and governmental intimidation when they overthrew the Marcos dictatorship two decades ago. Unfortunately, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has completely lost touch with the ideals that inspired that 1986 "people power" movement.
Mrs. Arroyo is no Ferdinand Marcos, at least not yet. But this onetime reformer is reviving bad memories of crony corruption, presidential vote-rigging and intimidation of critical journalists. Unless the Philippine Congress and courts find ways to rein in her increasingly authoritarian tendencies, democracy itself may be in danger.
This was not the outcome people expected five years ago when Mrs. Arroyo, then the vice president, was swept into power on a wave of popular discontent with her discredited predecessor, Joseph Estrada. In those days, Mrs. Arroyo, a professional economist, was seen as an earnest reformer. She won further credit by pledging not to run for a new six-yearterm in 2004.
But then she changed her mind, and her style of government as well. Her narrow re-election victory became tainted after a tape revealed her discussing her vote totals with an election commissioner while ballots were still being counted. She survived an impeachment attempt over that incident. But she was forced to send her husband into exile over charges that he took bribes from gambling syndicates.
Earlier this year she briefly declared a state of emergency in response to allegations of a coup threat that others disputed. Since then she has been intensifying pressure on a wide range of political critics and especially on the press. Government officials have warned news outlets that they will be held to restrictive new guidelines, the justice secretary talks darkly about a journalistic watch list, and the staff members of a well-known center for investigative journalism have been threatened with sedition
charges. No Philippine government has made such efforts to muzzle the press since the Marcos era.
President Bush has repeatedly hailed Mrs. Arroyo as an important ally against international terrorism. He now needs to warn her that by undermining a hard-won democracy, she is making her country far more vulnerable to terrorist pressures.
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