Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Arroyo's hardline policy vs Reds will crush her

Arroyo's hardline policy vs Reds will crush her
First posted 06:08am (Mla time) June 19, 2006
By Amando Doronila

THE CALL of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in Isabela last week to crush the 37-year-old communist insurgency in two years, in at least three �critical areas,� cannot simply be reduced to the worn-out clich�, �all-out war against the Left.�

The call represents a major policy initiative of Ms Arroyo for the last three years of her administration with strong ideological overtones.

The Isabela initiative sharpens the administration�s tendency toward strong-arm rule. It is raised for the first time since the Marcos regime�s anticommunism stance as a polarizing issue upon which the Arroyo administration seeks to mobilize broad political support to ensure serving out its term till 2010.

In pursuing this line, the Arroyo administration has taken a big gamble. It is mocked by the history of failure of most Philippine administrations since 1946 to crush the communist movement militarily.

Within a time frame of three years before Ms Arroyo�s term expires, and with limited military and economic resources at its disposal, the initiative faces skepticism over its success and invites criticism that it is undertaking a foolish project without carefully considering its political costs.

The Isabela project was launched even before the successful completion of the first major political initiative of this administration -- the revision of the 1987 Constitution leading to the shift from the presidential system to the parliamentary system. This first policy initiative was visionary and involved fundamental political reforms.

Ms Arroyo ends the first half of her term this year. We shall know before the end of 2006 whether the constitutional reform policy initiative will take off in whatever form. Constitutional change was billed as a historic legacy of a reformist presidency that sadly has lost its aura of electoral legitimacy early in its term by being embroiled in ethical issues associated with making telephone calls to an election official over the poll results.

More than political war

In contrast to the Charter change initiative, the Isabela initiative is punitive and is more than a political war. It engages the Arroyo administration in expanded armed conflict with the communist movement, with an intensity unseen since the Marcos regime�s crackdown on the insurgents in the 1960s and 1970s.

Marcos used the leftist insurgency as a mobilizing issue to build a coalition for an authoritarian order and as an excuse to legitimize the declaration of martial law.

Ms Arroyo declared in Isabela �the fight against the Left remains the glue that binds,� in the first of her meetings of four regional mega-zones to launch developmental projects.

The launch in Isabela has ideological and symbolic significance. It is one of the three critical areas with festering active armed insurgency.

Emphasizing the mailed fist of the policy, Ms Arroyo directed the release of P1 billion to buy attack helicopters and aircraft and earmarked P75 billion for investment and socioeconomic projects in the north Luzon mega-region for the next three years. A day after the Isabela meeting, Major General Jovito Palparan, commander of the 7th Infantry Division in Central Luzon, launched expanded military operations against the New People�s Army, the communist�s military wing.

Signs of policy shift

Several signs preceded the Isabela declaration suggesting that the hardline policy shift was not a spur of the moment. It was preceded by the killing over the past three years of several hundred legal leftists by unidentified death squads.

Last week, defense and security officials announced the government was preparing to file murder charges against Jose Maria Sison, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines who is based in The Netherlands, for the killing in 2003 and 2004 of some senior party leaders.

Latest military estimates place the NPA membership at 7,000. It peaked at 25,200 members in 1987, a year after President Corazon Aquino was installed following the 1986 �people power� uprising. Membership dropped to a low of 6,025 in l992 but in 1998, the military noted a resurgence, with NPA membership surging to 16,616 fighters.

The significance of Ms Arroyo�s hardline shift on the communist movement is that it has reversed the trend toward the legalization of the party and drawing their members into the parliamentary arena through the party-list representation.

This hardline shift and the salience of the anticommunist campaign call for explanations.

�Last card�

One perspective suggests that Ms Arroyo is playing militarism as a �last card,� to ensure regime survival as she continues to be rocked by the �crisis of legitimacy.�

If this explanation is correct, a related point is that dependence on military factions for support against political challenges in civil society makes her regime more vulnerable to military coups and blackmail.

Anticommunism has never helped any administration since Marcos as a mobilizing issue for broader political support. It did not when the communist takeover threat was high. There is no such dire concern now.

It is, therefore, a false issue for popular coalition building. Historically, the anticommunist scare has made administration hostage to alliance with the military for regime maintenance and survival.

Ms Arroyo is unlikely to have any more success than previous leaders in crushing the communist insurgency. More likely, the anticommunist hardline policy will crush her administration more than it will the insurgency.

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