More Political Storms Ahead: A Post-Election Analysis

It is hard to believe that, after the elections which further exposed a fragile political system, the country will see a semblance of political stability in the next several months and couple of years – this, considering the turbulent issues that remain unsolved and the deep undercurrents of economic insecurity faced by the people.

Vol. VII, No. 21, July 1-7, 2007

Assuming that Gloria M. Arroyo expects to finish her presidential term in 2010, the course she will take will remain to be rough and topsy-turvy. She has extended her hand of “reconciliation” in a bid to divide and weaken the political opposition after her Team Unity (TU) senatorial slate suffered a devastating defeat in the recent elections. How she will be able to do that remains murky given the fact that she cannot unite her own ruling coalition particularly on the issue of the House speakership in the 14th Congress; in the same way, there is infighting in her own Cabinet over economic policies and other issues. Meanwhile, a new level of political awakening among the people has been created by the bastardization and fraud of the May 14 elections coupled with the critical mass perceptions about the rigging of the 2004 presidential race, the aborted charter change and political repression.

It is hard to believe that, after the elections which further exposed a fragile political system, the country will see a semblance of political stability in the next several months and couple of years – this, considering the turbulent issues that remain unsolved and the deep undercurrents of economic insecurity faced by the people. The political situation that looms ahead of us will be aggravated by a number of critical issues:

1) The further entrenchment of the ruling elite resulting from the farcical May 14 elections will aggravate, instead of solve, the crisis of governance and the weakening of so-called democratic political institutions that this country has seen since the Marcos dictatorship;

2) Gloria M. Arroyo will continue to be a major cause of political instability owing to the unresolved issue of presidential legitimacy and her own efforts to stay in power by placing the House of Representatives under her domination and dividing the Senate, while maintaining a fragile alliance with local government leaders through a number of key political dynasties and warlords;

3) The implementation of the anti-terrorism law otherwise known as “Human Security Act” can be a de facto declaration of martial law and in furtherance of the gross and systematic violations of human rights;

4)  The Filipino people will come under greater foreign military aggression as a result of the secret signing of the Philippine-Australia Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), in addition to the VFA with the U.S. which is in clear violation of the country’s rights to sovereignty, territorial integrity, and self-determination.

The May 14 elections left Congress under the continued domination of the country’s ruling elite – which has been the case for 100 years – as a result of the election and re-election of legislators coming from political dynasties and clans. Arroyo’s political allies representing at least four political parties boast of controlling 86 percent of the House membership majority of them coming from political clans. In the Senate, 15 of its members also come from political clans. The same is true in the local government units (LGUs) spread in the country’s 81 provinces where majority of the winning governors and mayors who come from political clans are also part of the ruling coalition.

On the other hand, 15 of the current 22 members of the Senate represent political clans. The upper chamber is conceded to be dominated by the opposition unless some of its members who claim to be “oppositionist” cut a deal with Arroyo.

The dynasties that comprise the ruling coalition in Congress and the pro-Arroyo directory of LGUs are bound up to the Macapagal-Arroyo dynasty under the corruption-ridden patronage system of pork barrel, development funds and other perks and favors.

The number of seats of Party-lists may drop from 23 in the last Congress to 20 in the coming 14th Congress following the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) announcement that it intends to implement the Panganiban formula or the First Party Rule. This should underscore the point that Congress, through its House district representatives and members of the Senate, remains the enclave of elite politics and the mangling of the Party-list system, which was vividly shown in the recent elections, casts doubts on the constitutional principle that guarantees proportional representation of the country’s marginal and under-represented sectors.

In the last 13th Congress which lasted for three years (July 2004 – June 2007), only 29 laws were passed as of March 2007, and out of the number only five are major legislations: the Expanded Value-Added Tax Law (RA 9337), the Biofuels Act of 2006 (RA 9367), Amending the Election Modernization Act (RA 9369), the Death Penalty Abolition (RA 9346), and the Human Security Act of 2007 (RA 9372).

The lackluster performance of the past Congress and the elite members’ reprehensible hostility to progressive and pro-people legislations, while shamelessly promoting elite and foreign multinational interests, create no prospects that the new Congress will be different. Thus, we should no longer find it revolting if the 14th Congress will once again reject bills authored by progressive Party-lists and supported by a few progressive legislators calling for an increase in the daily minimum wage of workers, an increase in the salary of government employees, on the compensation of Marcos human rights victims, on the review of certain laws pertaining to the automatic debt payment appropriations, the destructive mining act of 1995, pro-globalization laws and other acts.

It is the Arroyo presidency, however, which will continue to be the center of political controversy.  Not since the Marcos years has a President been most politically isolated, the most recent indication of which was the defeat of her TU senatorial ticket in the last elections which is seen as a political referendum on the presidency. To recover from this devastation, Mrs. Arroyo tried to appear unscathed and “statesmanlike” by offering her hand of “reconciliation” to the forces opposed to her. But the offer became suspect, not only because it came from the most divisive political player in the country but that far from being a proposal for unification it was a divisive gesture intended to divide the political opposition. True, she enjoys the support of a dominant majority in the House and most of the local government executives. But what appears to be a political alliance between the President and many of the country’s political clans stands on shaky ground. As in past presidencies, it is at best an alliance of short-term political convenience: on the one hand, for the President to save herself from a third impeachment and, on the part of her allies, for the short-term advantages of pork barrel, “development funds,” a share in political power and other perks. We can foresee that this short-term alliance will begin to crumble a few years before 2010 when traditional politicians begin to gravitate toward the next winning candidate for President the race for which, by the way, has already begun.

At this point, allow me to share some thoughts on what are foreseen as some of the chokepoints that will batter the presidency within the next few years:

1) A new level of controversy between the Filipino people and the Arroyo government is fast shaping up due to the imminent implementation of the anti-terrorism law otherwise known as the “Human Security Act”. Others would rather call, the “Human Security Threat.” Let us leave it to the human rights lawyers and civil libertarians to tackle the dangerous ramifications and nuances of this Act which has been condemned in the United Nations, the EU and various international human rights watchdogs and by the progressive movement in the Philippines which has opposed it as an instrument for an undeclared martial law. It is ironic that the anti-terrorism law will be implemented on July 15 – exactly a day after July 14 when, 218 years ago (1789), languishing political prisoners were set free after the storming of the infamous prison of Bastille by the French people who rallied to the calls of “liberty, equality, and fraternity” and which, in turn, inspired many of our constitutional framers, including those who authored the Human Security Act.

The implementation of the Human Security Act under President Arroyo will bring closure to the stalled peace talks between the government and the NDFP, and could even affect the ongoing peace talks with the MILF where negotiations are bogged down by disagreement over the MILF demand for the recognition of their right to ancestral domain.

This week, calls have been made for an investigation of the top echelon of the AFP for their possible role in the adoption of a state policy of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances, which policy could not have been implemented without authorization by their commander-in-chief. The calls for accountability for the political murders and other atrocities have arisen as various foreign governments are under pressure to withdraw economic and military aid from the Arroyo government until the human rights violations are rectified.

But we don’t have to look for secret graves, traces of blood and the trails of military involvement to know the state of human rights because in other areas and government policies, human rights violations will continue to mount: In the continued demolition of urban poor communities, in the imminent displacement of peasant and IP communities as a result of the full implementation of the strongly-denounced Mining Act of 1995, in the worsening of unemployment and the diaspora of migrant Filipinos, in millions of children and youth denied education, in the deterioration of public health, in the imminent lay-off of government employees under the “reorganization act” and privatization law, and so on.

2) The Philippines will come under increasing military aggression by foreign powers in the next few years. Mrs. Arroyo should be held to account for yet another constitutional violation: The secret signing of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and Australia, allowing the further transgression of the people’s rights to sovereignty, territorial integrity, and self-determination. In the guise of training exercises and “anti-terrorism,” the new VFA will allow the entry of military troops from Australia, the junior partner of the U.S. in Southeast Asia and the rest of the Far East and Oceania.

In return for the signing of the VFA, which is to be ratified by the Philippine Senate, the Australian government promised an increase in aid funding by as much as 46 percent, with $100.6 million given for this year alone; and more funds have been committed under Australia’s new “aid strategy” that will last until 2011. The entry of Australian armed forces into the Philippines is central not only to that country’s increasing economic interests in the country such as mining projects but also to its own projection of military presence in Asia Pacific which is also in line with its active military partnership with the U.S., Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea. A scenario is developing from this situation: The picture is becoming clear that the U.S., with the possible involvement of Australia, is building a “permanent-temporary” military presence in Mindanao. The increasing presence of foreign military forces in the country will increase – instead of deter – “terrorist” threats (if one can believe that) and will embroil the Philippines into military aggression that the U.S. is cooking up in its strategy of military encirclement directed against China.

In summary, the country will see a deterioration of the political situation in the next few years even as the people reel from the bankruptcy of major political institutions such as the presidency and Congress and the collapse of the system of laws. (Where else in the world, for instance, can you find a country where the head of state commutes the jail sentence of a convicted rapist in exchange, as alleged, for the financial support given by the latter in the 2004 presidential elections?)

We have seen this in the last farcical elections particularly in the further loss of credibility of the Commission on Elections not because of its failure to ensure “honest, fair and clean elections” but because it was the source of the failure of the elections itself. The elections further entrenched a political system that is dominated by political dynasties and kept the doors of the law-making process to the marginal classes and sectors owing to the mangling and bastardization of the Party-list system.

This is not to ignore, however, the flicker of hope that we saw in the election of a few “moral alternatives” and in the heroic role played by the country’s thousands of poll watch volunteers who sought to bring sanity and fairness to the elections that was otherwise characterized by widespread fraud and violence. This gives us hope that the Filipino people desire change in the country’s political system. A fundamental change in the country’s electoral process, however, will not come about unless the basic structures of a democratic political system are constructed that would allow the institutionalization of democratic elections. True elections can only take place in a truly, democratic system where the sovereign will of the people replaces the dominating power of the elite or the political dynasties. Posted by Bulatlat

* Paper discussed in ”Election 2007: Assessment, Prospects, and Challenges,” a post-election forum held at the La Salle Greenhills, June 27, 2007, sponsored by the PCPR, NCCP and other organizations.

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