Prodded by Amnesty International (AI), the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Asian Human Rights Commission, Reporters Without Borders, and other international organizations, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo recently cobbled a group to look into the allegations of massive human rights violations — over 729 victims of extrajudicial killings, and 180 involuntary “disappearances,” by the latest count — during her administration. The spokesman of the National Democratic Front Philippines (NDFP), Fidel Agcaoili (2006), quickly dismissed the move as a scheme to hide the regime’s complicity in Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL), the internal security program designed to wipe out the 37-years old insurgency in two years. Can the culprit indict and condemn herself? How can Arroyo acquit herself when this unprecedented “genocidal” campaign to suppress all dissent (as Agcaoili and others claim) has been master-minded by her own Cabinet Oversight Committee for Internal Security staffed by sycophantic bureaucrats and military factotums? In 2001, the U.S. State Department averred that “Members of the security services were responsible for extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture, and arbitrary arrest and detention” (Berrigan 2003).
Citing government officials, Agcaoili claimed that the killings and abductions were meant to strengthen the government’s negotiating position in its peace talks with the NDFP. But, surely, this is not just a matter of scoring talking points. It is not just an Arroyo public-relations maneuver to deflect attention away from impeachment charges or any other urgent court investigation.
At present, Arroyo faces no challenge from the crony-filled Batasan nor from the ineffectual Supreme Court. The supremacy of the executive branch over the judicial and legislative in Philippine politics has a long history dating back to the U.S. military and civil governors of colonial rule following the Filipino-American War of 1899-1903. What triggered this sudden concern is a convergence of events. The mass media joined the daily recital of political killings with the suffering of Filipinos in war-torn Lebanon. Combining the victims of repression at home with the impending deaths and expulsion of Filipinos abroad (whose remittance of $10 billion or more annually enables the stagnant, indebted economy to stay afloat) was an explosive mix for the precarious, unstable ruling coalition.
What is at stake is not the lives of citizens but their remittance capacity, the unpaid surplus labor used for capital accumulation, profit for the privileged few. Confronted by the plight of Filipino workers in Lebanon, inquiring officials discovered that billions of pesos paid by these workers to help them during emergencies abroad were not available because they were used for other illegal purposes. Arroyo and her clique were revealed to be clearly responsible for this anomaly. Charges of graft and corruption, manipulation of public moneys, violation of enacted rules and public norms, and so on piled up amid political chicanery, mock prophecy envisioning Filipina “Supermaids” flooding the world, and a bizarre mirage of impending prosperity. The electoral and media influence of about nine million Filipinos overseas could not be ignored. But so, too, could the voices of Amnesty International, the United Nations, the Asia Human Rights Commission (2006), KARAPATAN (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights 2003), the World Council of Churches, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor of the U.S. Congress (2005), and so on, not be allowed to dominate the public arena. It was necessary to maintain acquiescent normalcy and “business as usual.”
Intervention from International Monitors
AI’s observations on the Arroyo ethos of maintaining peace and order are instructive. The politically-motivated pattern of killings, according to AI, can be discerned from “the methodology of the attacks, including prior death threats and patterns of surveillance by persons reportedly linked to the security forces, the leftist profile of the victims and climate of impunity which, in practice, shields the perpetrators from prosecution” (2006). The phrase “climate of impunity” elegantly condemns Arroyo’s insouciance. Such indifference is a ruse, a subterfuge. The February declaration of a “State of Emergency,” “the arrest and threatened arrest of leftist Congress Representatives and others on charges of rebellion, and intensifying counter-insurgency operations in the context of a declaration by officials in June of ‘all-out-war’ against the New People’s Army, . . . the parallel public labeling by officials of a broad range of legal leftist groups as communist ‘front organizations’ directly linked to the insurgency” — AI points out — “has created an environment in which there is heightened concern that further political killings of civilians are likely to take place” (2006).
While AI has correctly situated the incidents of extrajudicial killings and abductions in “the climate of impunity” enabled by autocratic-military rule, its moralistic remedy accords with its conciliatory mission. AI calls on the Arroyo-led state to “fulfill its obligation to protect the right to life of every individual under its jurisdiction,” as required by the Philippine Constitution and international human rights law. But how can the mastermind (as AI implies) arrest, prosecute, and convict her minions and hirelings? Of the 114 killings recorded since 2001 by the government’s Task Force Usig, the police have arrested suspects in just three cases, without any convictions reported. AI calls on Arroyo to halt the “corrosive impact [of military-instigated killings] on public confidence in the administration of justice” by heeding its 14-Point Program for the Prevention of Extrajudicial Executions, establish a Witness Protection program, and invite the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions.” Well, thank you and good luck!
A discordance exists between AI’s realistic diagnosis of the environment and “climate of impunity” and its wish-fulfilling recommendations. Obviously, AI cannot engage in a comprehensive, in-depth political analysis of the social relations, ideology, economic factors, and political circumstances that define the barbaric policies and acts of the Arroyo fraction of the comprador-landlord class. Nor can it mention the long-lived complicity of the U.S. government in supporting, abetting, and rewarding those policies and actions with military aid, logistics, U.S. Special Forces, and training of soldiers and officers, in the global war on terrorism — more specifically, on the New People’s Army, the Communist Party of the Philippines, and various Moro rebellious groups that the U.S. State Department labels “terrorist.” Current attempts to impose a national identity card system, screening of newspaper reporting, curbs on other media of communication, etc. are intended to follow the model of the USA Patriot Act and the machinery of the Homeland Security State. But, of course, the Philippines is only a peripheral instrument for the metropolitan behemoth (Mahajan 2002).
The Arroyo regime’s complete subservience to the Bush administration and its war-obsessed scheme to repair its fragile white-supremacist hegemony underlies the conduct of Arroyo’s cabinet officials and the officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in their demonization of Bayan Muna activists as “communists” and stigmatization of all dissenters and critics as “terrorists.” This kind of neofascist rule dispenses with Marcos’ “constitutional authoritarianism” by relying primarily on gangsterized military and police elements, lacking any real mass support and constrained by opposition from fractions of the ruling class (groups around Cory Aquino, former president Estrada, and sections of the business elite).
But can one analyze this group behavior as simply a symptom of neocolonial mendacity and servitude to wily American patrons? Is it an equal consortium of criminals? Why does an administration claiming to be lawfully installed (though a majority are convinced that Arroyo is guilty of cheating) resort to intimidation, coercion by brute force, warrantless arrests, torture, and murder? And, despite its boasting of success in economic progress, why does it ignore a public accounting of its record in respecting civil liberties, promoting a culture of civic dignity and nationalist independence, and a genuine process of participatory democracy? Why is its authority imposed by violence and its legitimacy enforced by prohibitions and military aggression, as exemplified by General Jovito Palparan’s methods of pacifying ordinary civilians in Mindoro and Central Luzon? Certainly, “winning hearts and minds” is far from the minds of the heirs of Ramon Magsaysay and Col. Edward Lansdale of the CIA.
A review of the Arroyo tenure so far may provide answers.
The Banality of the Trapos
Whoever expected Arroyo to be an improvement over Estrada must be a self-deluded innocent if not a Hobbesian fetishist. Since her access to government power through the flawed 2004 voting exercise, Arroyo has turned out to be a huge disappointment to those who supported her in EDSA II as an alternative to the jueteng lord. Arroyo was definitely not a Cory Aquino with the charisma of the martyred Ninoy. Arroyo’s experience in politics conformed to the routine career of a member of local oligarchic dynasties; but her clan grew rich primarily from bureaucratic and business manipulation, secondarily through landlord exploitation.
Today, underworld linkages (with U.S. connections) surround Arroyo’s clan and “tribal” cronies. This is not unusual for a traditional politician reared in clientelism (San Juan 2000). What is missing is any civic ambition or project of constructing an ideological platform to articulate the consensus of her followers, if not the organic teleology of her class allies. She has to resign herself to hackneyed anticommunist slogans refurbished for the militarist technocrats of neoliberal globalization. Arroyo might appear for some benighted Makati aristocrats to resemble Ferdinand Marcos — without the savvy and pretense to intellectual substance of the latter. Despite U.S. tutelage, Arroyo’s managerial mode of crass pragmatic opportunism demonstrates an essentially autocratic style of governance appropriately synchronized with the dictates of the World Bank, IMF, WTO, and the Washington Consensus.
Right from the beginning, Arroyo’s ascendancy was characterized by rampant human rights violations. Based on the reports of numerous fact-finding missions, Arroyo has presided over an unprecedented series of harassments, warrantless arrests, and assassinations of journalists, lawyers, church people, peasant leaders, legislators, doctors, women activists, youthful students, indigenous leaders, and workers. The human rights watchdog KARAPATAN has documented the brutalization of 169,530 individual victims, 18,515 families, 71 communities, and 196 households. Arroyo has been tellingly silent over the killing and abduction of countless members of opposition parties and popular organizations. Most of those killed or “disappeared” were peasant or worker activists belonging to progressive groups such as Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Gabriela, Anakbayan, Karapatan, KMU, and others (Petras and Abaya 2006). They were protesting Arroyo’s repressive taxation, collusion with foreign capital tied to oil and mining companies that destroy people’s livelihood and environment, fraudulent use of public funds, and other anti-people measures. Such groups and individuals have been tagged as “communist fronts” by Arroyo’s National Security Advisers, the military, and police; the latter agencies have been implicated in perpetrating or tolerating those ruthless atrocities.
Recently, General Jovito Palparan of the Philippine Army’s 7th Infantry Divion, reputedly the most notorious instigator of these outrageous brutalities, has fomented a climate of fear and impunity in Central Luzon. Sixty percent of the killings have occurred in his domain. Civilians who are unable to show cedulas or community tax certificates are humiliated, jailed, and tortured for being NPA members or sympathizers. His army of occupation has earned distinction as a worthy successor to the abusive Japanese Kempetai, inflicting indignity, injury, and death on terrorized subjects (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 17 August 2006, A12).
National Emergency as State Dogma
Relentless corruption, cynical divide-and-rule manipulation, and the outright lack of any concern for the people’s welfare have distinguished Arroyo’s unconscionable rule from its inception. Faced with the loss of moral and political legitimacy, Arroyo has institutionalized a pattern of terror throughout the country since taking the reins of government. Particularly with the 2001/2004 election of party-list representatives from Bayan Muna, killings, abductions, and outright harassment of anyone criticizing the government have intensified. Despite having only three elected representatives in Congress and a few allies, Bayan Muna is now considered a serious threat that should be “neutralized” by police action. Without any open proof or evidence, Bayan Muna is construed by Arroyo and the AFP as a surrogate, a stand-in, for the NPA and the Communist Party of the Philippines.
The Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace has confirmed that the majority of human rights violations have been committed by the AFP, the Philippine National Police, and the CAFGU (Civilian Armed Forces Government Units). And this could not have occurred without the tacit or covert approval of Arroyo and her advisers. As the Promotion of Church People’s Response put it in their February 24 Statement: “GMA cheated her way to victory in the May 2004 elections, using public funds to secure votes in her favor and rig the election results. . . . GMA’s record of political killings and violations of civil liberties, especially with her Calibrated Preemptive Response scheme, is now the worst since the downfall of Marcos. . . . President Arroyo’s Proclamation 1017 constitutes a flagrant violation of the Philippine Constitution via the pretext of a ‘National Emergency.'”
In truth, it is Arroyo’s emergency. Arroyo’s suppression of civil liberties and constitutional rights carried out by the military and police opens the way to militarist brutal dictatorship reminiscent of Marcos’ authoritarian rule. Unlike Marcos, however, Arroyo does not have the full support of the comprador and landlord oligarchy; Ramos, Estrada, Aquino, and other factions of the ruling class that they represent have demanded her resignation. Clearly these groups, with obvious support from the U.S., would prefer “business as usual” — a managed transition to a legitimate administration elected by the majority, with a program of economic and political reforms to solve rampant graft and corruption, endemic unemployment, deepening poverty and hopelessness of the masses. Can such a transition be peacefully administered by the traditional politicians (such as De Venecia) with U.S. patronage?
Evidently, Arroyo’s “National Emergency” decree arrogated to a clique or fraction of the ruling class the use of the coercive State apparatus (courts, police, jails, all public offices and funds) to promote the interest of a few families and their extended retinues (see Sheila Coronel, Inside PCIJ, February 27, 2006). Some politicians asked Arroyo to explain her decree. Was it meant to guarantee “peace for national development,” as OBL purports to be? Since taking power in 2001, Arroyo has never explained the role of the AFP and PNP (Philippine National Police) in the killing or brutalization of thousands of peasants, workers, women, professionals, Moros, Lumads, and youth. No explanation has been given for the lack of decent jobs for thousands who leave everyday — over 100,000 nurses and doctors left in the last decade. No explanation for the collapse of the nation’s health care system. No explanation for the violence against women, for the pollution of habitats, the neglect of OFWs raped and beaten and killed. No explanation for the hunger, diseases, and misery afflicting millions of Filipinos.
Devoid of any “check-and-balance” restraint from Congress or Court, Arroyo’s administrative hubris has been unleashed chiefly on the progressive and nationalist sectors of the citizenry. Should we expect a massacre of Indonesian or Chilean proportions? Marcos tried to do it, but he had to compromise in the end. Clearly, today, the hand of the U.S. and its agents has been exposed in directing this selective dragnet, even as the US Embassy continues to assert sovereignty over four American soldiers charged by the Philippine Court with rape. Meanwhile, thousands of U.S. Special Forces and their mighty warships are standing by, just in case. A recent news item about the U.S. holding secret negotiations (with the approval of local officials) with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to establish a new military base in MILF-held territory in Mindanao confirms the U.S. stranglehold on the Arroyo regime (Scarpello 2006).
The failure of the inept, corrupt regimes of Ramos, Estrada, and Arroyo is also evidenced by the continuing Bangsa Moro insurgency led by militants of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). In this context, the breakdown of the MNLF-Misuari accommodation also proves how fragile is the peace won by Malacanang bribery, coercion, and promises. Hence the need of the U.S. after the 9/11 attack to stigmatize the New People’s Army and the Communist Party of the Philippines as terrorist organizations, capitalizing on the repulsive acts of the Abu Sayyaf and the pervasive climate of fear following the bombings in Bali, Indonesia, and elsewhere. In this context, OBL serves as an instrument for advancing U.S. global hegemony. This will not stop the disintegration of the neocolonial order and the defeat of the U.S. salvaging of its Frankenstein monster.
United States Patronage
One of the first signs of the vulnerability of Arroyo’s position may be found in her yielding to the massive popular demand for withdrawal of Filipino troops in Iraq following the Angelo de la Cruz kidnapping. Of course, she tried to exploit its “nationalist” potential. But her continuing servility to Bush’s imperialist aggression in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, together with her obedience to the WTO neoliberal program of privatization and deregulation, continues to reinforce her utter dependency on global forces that only serve to undermine her presumptive authority, her claim to represent the Filipino nation as President of the Republic.
After the 9/11 disaster, Arroyo was the first to embrace Bush’s pre-emptive war against anti-imperialist forces. She invited thousands of U.S. Special Forces to engage in police actions together with the AFP, thus violating an explicit Constitutional provision against the intervention of foreign troops in local affairs. She followed Fidel Ramos in implementing the Visiting Forces Agreement, together with other onerous treaties, thus maintaining U.S. control of the Philippine military via training of officers, logistics, and dictation of punitive measures against the Moro insurgents as well as the New People’s Army guerillas. The Philippines became the “second front in the war on terror,” with Bush visiting the Philippines in October 2004 and citing the neocolony as a model for the rebuilding of devastated Iraq (for the character of the new U.S. imperialism, see Foster and McChesney 2004).
National sovereignty has been offered by Arroyo as a fungible commodity in the world market. Between 2000 and 2003, U.S. military assistance to Arroyo jumped by an impressive 1,776 percent. The Philippines is already number one in Asia and fourth in the world as the largest beneficiary of US military aid. From $65 million in 2004, U.S. military aid increased to $80 million chiefly to serve counter-terrorism schemes like OBL (Philippine Aidwatch Network 2005). Aside from the May 2006 agreement regularizing the annual Joint U.S.-Philippines Special Operations Task Force military exercises that extend to “non-traditional security concerns,” what is more alarming is the thrust of the U.S. AID ‘s “2003 Conflict Vulnerability Assessment,” its strategy for 2004-2009 which addresses “conflicts outside Mindanao where poverty and social injustice can help to create fertile ground for organized violence and terrorism” (Tuazon 2006). Shades of Magsaysay/Lansdale clones engaged in counter-revolutionary plotting!
This repeatable scenario is the profound legacy of the persisting colonial subjugation of the Philippines and the instrumentalization of the local bureaucracy and military to carry out the U.S. imperial strategy in the first half of the twentieth-century up to the Cold War anti-communist policies and the current racialized “war against global terrorism.” Without US support, the Filipino elite cannot sustain the oppression and exploitation of millions of propertyless workers, peasants, and middle strata now driven to flee and settle in other lands.
As a token of obedience to her U.S. sponsors, Arroyo has hired a U.S. lobbying firm, Venable, for advice on national governance. The US firm will ostensibly raise money for the modernization of the AFP. It will also propose crucial amendments to the Constitution so as to allow foreign ownership of land, public utilities, and the mass media. Charter change will be pushed through to permit Arroyo to retain power even under a new parliamentary set-up. To conciliate Washington, Arroyo is heeding the Bush administration’s scheme of devising Anti-Terrorism Laws and National ID Systems to suppress the articulation of grievances by the poor, deprived majority (on U.S. state terrorism, see Ahmad 2001). Because of severe unemployment, soaring prices of oil products and basic commodities, unjust salaries and wages, increased tax burdens, chronic corruption in government, insufficient and costly social services, lack of genuine land reform, alarming proliferation of gambling, drugs, and State violence against ordinary citizens, millions of Filipinos, including landed elite, bishops, businessmen, and professionals, have called for Arroyo’s resignation (see March 2005 survey of Pulse Asia; Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 4, 2005).
Any president of the Republic since nominal independence in 1946 is always a compromise post or function negotiated among the class sectors (landlords, compradors, bureaucrat capitalists) and the U.S. This time, however, the post has become an arena of fierce internecine struggle. Since 2004, Arroyo’s faction suffered a stunningly rapid erosion of support from the traditional comprador and oligarchic segments of the ruling bloc. On one hand, the ousted Estrada camp has really never reconciled itself to its loss of power, given its populist tendencies and residual social-democratic leaning. On the other hand, the Arroyo clique failed to offer a viable opening to those excluded and marginalized, given its dependence on bureaucratic corruption, extortions, raids on the public treasury, and other criminal activities.
Arroyo usurped power through EDSA II, a mass phenomenon taken over by the excluded fractions of the elite. In that process, it was presumed that authority derived from her charismatic figure, not from the rational-legal normative rules attached to the office which were suspended, supplemented by the mystique of tradition. Belief in her legitimacy collapsed with her election. So Arroyo confused the right to act as President with the power of commanding assent; belief in one’s authority became crucial (Scruton 1982). Power customarily derived from the power-brokers, the AFP. While habit and custom maintained routine patterns of obedience particularly from the wealthy and middle class, ordinary citizen’s belief in Arroyo’s legitimacy dissolved when the hugely popular Fernando Poe lost the election. Eventually, Arroyo’s legitimacy evaporated with the Garci revelations, replaced with bureaucratic State power and its arbitrary, contingent implementation.
How can one insure belief in one’s legitimacy if such belief is based on coercion or trickery? A national consensus resolving class antagonisms, the foundation of oligarchic hegemony, has failed to materialize. The regime may be able to maintain order in urban areas, but it has miserably failed to deliver adequate government services and socially constructive, inspiring directives to society at large. Except for maintaining the services of the police and military, Arroyo’s administrative apparatus has been harnessed chiefly for regime survival. Never really interested in generating mass consent or popular mobilization, the Arroyo clique has relied on bribery and other insidious machinations. It operates with a narrow circle of parasitic generals, “trapos” (traditional politicians), and mediocre functionaries from the mass media and the academy. Its popular base is non-existent. Its influence on landed oligarchs, professional strata, and the business/commercial elite has always been superficial and precarious, mediated by brokers like Fidel Ramos, De Venecia, and assorted confidence tricksters. In addition, religious fundamentalism reinforces the passivity and conservatism of the middle elements who either play blind or tolerate repression for short-term utilitarian expedience. In short, Arroyo’s mode of governance (for as long as it succeeds) has always been essentially corporatist, reactionary, opportunistic.
Cold War Ghouls
In the past, the neocolonial order survived popular insurrections through a combined strategy of exacting consent and applying coercion. In the fifties of the last century, Magsaysay’s strategy of “All-out Friendship or All-out Force” mixed military suppression and economic-political reforms to counter the Huks. W. Wertheim (1974) questions whether Magsaysay’s strategy of joining “a right hand’ mailed-fist policy (administered by Manuel Roxas) with a “left hand” reformist one is a genuine alternative to social revolution. The history of the last fifty years demonstrates that such classic doctrine of U.S. counterinsurgency may create temporary “breathing space” for the exploiters (such as the “total war” policy of Corazon Aquino), but ultimately perpetuates and even worsens the social conditions that generate discontent, anarchy, and rebellion.
One should interject here the sociohistorical context of counterinsurgency politics. The Philippine social formation is still basically tributary and disarticulated, with non-class social alignments (status identity tied to religion, gender, etc.) juxtaposed with primary class antagonisms. The main contradiction is still between the popular-democratic classes (peasants, workers, and middle strata) and the comprador/landlord/bureaucrat-capitalist bloc supported by the United States (Sison and De Lima 1998). One consequence of the political economy of underdevelopment of capitalist production relations and the persistence of clientelist, quasi-feudal relations is the erasure of the value of human rights, both individual and social. Clive Thomas argues that neocolonial underdevelopment in general restricts “the practice of ‘bourgeois’ ideas of legality and equality . . . among the population at large, particularly since these are founded on the ‘equality’ of all individuals in the marketplace” (1984, 85; compare the analysis of Macpherson 1962), so that political and legal relations have not been democratically transformed along bourgeois lines. This may apply to the large social domain where patriarchal, quasi-feudal, clientelist relations still prevail, including the authoritarian space of the military and technocratic bureaucracy inhabited by the likes of Arroyo, General Palparan, and their ilk. But surely not to the collective, dynamic spaces of proletarian struggle, indigenous community actions, women’s mobilization, artists’ nomadic organizations, civil society activism, and the liberated guerilla zones (San Juan 2002).
U.S. imperialism then fashioned the technocratic scheme of “low-intensity warfare” to deal with upheavals in the post-Vietnam period. Its military field manuals endorsed tactical tools of unconventional warfare: psychological warfare, forced mass evacuations or “hamletting,” imprisonment of whole communities in military garrisons, militarization of villages, selective assassinations, disappearances, mass executions, etc. Tried in Indochina, Korea, Central America, it continues to be implemented in Colombia, Iraq, and the Philippines. But contrary to Walden Bello’s (1989) view that U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine relied chiefly on a political-ideological offensive, the truth is the opposite. For example, Aquino’s “Yellow Revolution” would not have survived without overt and covert U.S. military support of the so-called “NAFP” (New Armed Forces of the Philippines) against coup attempts and insurgent assaults, especially from intransigent Moro partisans. With U.S. help, the AFP mobilized vigilante and paramilitary death squads with license to kill revolutionary militants, immune from prosecution. U.S. military force midwived the restoration of U.S.-backed oligarchic oppression of the Filipino masses. Even granting its moral “high ground” over the Marcos dictatorship, the political bankruptcy of the Aquino dispensation, including those of her successors Ramos, Estrada, and Arroyo, cannot distract us from the barbarism of neoliberal globalization in the “New World Order” with which they connived and in which they flourished (Falk 1993).
Beginning in 2002, the Arroyo government and the AFP implemented OBL, an “end-game strategy” to defeat the Communist Party and the NPA in two years. Arroyo even boasted of her one-billion peso funding of the combined military-police offensive against the NPA. Revised as the “Enhanced National Internal Security Plan,” OBL combines elements of the U.S. doctrine of “low intensity warfare” with more draconian tactics of the post-9/11″War Against Terrorism.” Apart from psywar black propaganda, OBL synthesizes combat, intelligence and civil-military operations to attack the “critical vulnerabilities” and “support systems” of the enemy. In this case, the enemy refers to all progressive, nationalist Filipinos critical of Arroyo and U.S. aggression. OBL has targetted legitimate political parties such as Bayan Muna, whose representatives were elected to Congress, and other cause-oriented groups. Its aim is to “neutralize” (that is, physically eliminate) the “terrorists,” which includes not only the Abu Sayyaf, but mainly the “communists” in alleged sectoral fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
A few provisional observations so far may be made here. In effect, Arroyo state terrorism is designed to 1) insure regime survival and reproduction of its personnel; 2) protect the privileges of the elite and the capital accumulation of a class fraction of the ruling bloc; and 3) promote neoliberal/U.S. hegemonic supremacy in Asia and the world, given its historic dependency on the former colonizers. Specifically, state terrorism deployed by the AFP attacks civilians to force them to abandon their support of the revolutionary and progressive forces. It uses military-police violence and its bureaucratic machinery to put the public in fear for specific political ends, such as those listed above. In such a climate of widespread fear, danger and dismay, in which violence strikes the hapless victims as something arbitrary and random, the consequence of unleashing methodical systematic force, namely, obedience to those wielding power and monopolizing resources, seems assured. This appears to be the logic of the Arroyo brand of state terrorism.
This logic is in turn rationalized with shoddy ideological platitudes. Since anti-communism has always been conflated with anti-terrorism from the start, it is easy to justify the killing of suspected terrorist “enemies of the state.” This may explain why the AFP continues to pursue a fanatical anti-communist program today even after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the capitalist reversal in China and in Eastern Europe. Its Christian chauvinist orientation militates against any pluralist outlook or even multiculturalist sympathy for the plight of the Bangsa Moro people and other indigenous communities (Igorots, Lumad) who have organized and armed themselves to fight for justice and dignity, for regaining their ancestral habitats.
But this AFP subservience to Washington does not insure the absence of internal rifts and breakdown of “professionalism” due to abuses and corruption of the politicized officer ranks (McCoy 2000).1 We can thus understand the “Hello Garci” episode, following the Oakwood “Mutiny,” as a symptom of the internal divisions in the AFP and the loss of Arroyo’s full control. Whatever sliver of moral legitimacy Arroyo’s administration still possessed then gradually dissolved in the AFP squabbles caused by this exposure. Not even her successful attempt to stop impeachment proceedings in Congress could really repair the rupture of political legitimacy dating back to the May 2004 elections. The “Hello Garci” scandal may be read as a symptom of the advanced disintegration of the comprador-landlord hegemony eviscerated by the Marcos dictatorship, temporarily revived by Cory Aquino, and given extension by Fidel Ramos’ mock-utopian resuscitation of Marcosian rhetoric.
Political Economy of Violence
Circumstance more than personality functions as the key determinant in this political conjuncture. Given the deterioration of infrastructure, lack of substantive investments for industry and agriculture, and the reliance on dollar remittance, this class compromise cannot endure for long. Resources for the reproduction of the means of violence and its machinery are in short supply. Resort to State violence cannot make up for the structural problems of underdevelopment, permanent indebtedness, and subordination to corporate global capital. Arroyo cannot rescue her coalition of conflicting political allies because of lack of the abundant foreign subsidies that Ferdinand Marcos then enjoyed, among other reasons. This is worsened by the depletion of natural resources and educated social capital (due to emigration, breakdown of schooling, etc.) and the strict limits of local capital accumulation (no independent industrial ventures) due to the pressures of globalization and the US “war” to re-establish its global hegemony by systematic torture and unrelenting bombing. In effect, the systematic political killing and repression we are witnessing today may be seen as the convulsive death-pangs of the Arroyo short-term compromise.
Arroyo has no other way out. The Economic Crisis of 1997-1998 destroyed any illusions of the Philippines becoming a new Asian Tiger. While Ramos and Estrada offered concessions to the working people and the intelligentsia, they failed to halt the advance of the armed struggle in the countryside and the national-democratic social movements in the cities. Civil society continues its resurgence despite State/military repression. With a profit-centered neoliberal hegemony in control, the unimpeded impoverishment of the countryside has resulted in the mass exodus to the cities and outward, hence a million Filipinos leave every year for jobs abroad. With competition from India, China, Vietnam, and Indonesia, the Philippines cannot solve unemployment, poverty, and popular discontent by the regime-survival methods of arrests, abductions, and summary executions.
Marcos’ institutionalization of “the warm body export” in 1974 to tax the poor and relieve labor-peasant unrest has structured the economy to be wholly dependent on regular remittances of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW), the main source of dollar earnings required to pay the burgeoning foreign debt. The remittance topped $18 billion last year, giving the impression that the country was becoming prosperous and taking off. Arroyo prematurely celebrated this index of an economic recovery entirely contingent on the unpredictable fluctuation of the global labor market.
A scandal of historic proportion, dwarfing the massive human-rights violations, is this infamous “warm body export” that threatens to deterritorialize the nation-state. It has led to nearly ten million Filipinos transported or displaced to 140 countries, chiefly as contract workers in poorly paid jobs (mainly as domestics, caregivers, and semi-skilled labor), often victimized by unscrupulous racist employers, abandoned by their own government to fend for themselves — an average of five OCW corpses arrive each day at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. These “New Heroes” (“mga bagong bayani” to Cory Aquino) are now clamoring for Arroyo’s ouster, despite her humorless projection of Filipina “super-maids” as the solution to the misery and poverty of the vast majority.
Meanwhile, structural conditionalities continue to extract enormous debt payments to the World Bank and other financial consortiums, draining two-thirds of the social wealth of the Philippines and depriving education and other social services of sorely needed funds. Neoliberalizing schemes enforced by U.S.-dominated agencies (WTO, IMF) continue to inflict havoc and misery on the majority of 86 million Filipinos. It has bred criminality, worsened corruption, inflamed reactionary Christian fundamentalism, and exposed everyone to the wrath of natural disasters (witness the Leyte flood, a repeat of previous devastating calamities in Luzon and elsewhere). It has contributed to the staging of the Wowowee tragedy, a glaring symptom of how the iniquitous system gambles the dreams of the desperate millions.
Unrepeatable History Lesson
What Arroyo and her advisers are doing is not original nor innovative, as the historical survey I have sketched earlier clearly show. The resort to seemingly uncontrolled political killings by paramilitary death squads in Central and Latin America in the seventies and eighties was a tactic of U.S. imperialist intervention to counteract popular, nationalist revolutions in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Argentina, Chile, and elsewhere. This is being repeated in the Philippines, with a crucial difference: the Arroyo regime is a fragile, incoherent product of a unique historical conjuncture in Philippine history. Supported by the Bush administration, the Arroyo regime is a vehicle of comprador/landlord/capitalist domination of the working masses that has lost popular consent, dating back to the martial-law despotism of Ferdinand Marcos to the backroom dealings of Ramos and Estrada. With the dynamics of “People Power” exhausted, the Arroyo class fraction is forced to resort to bribery, fraud, deception, and state terrorism.
The Arroyo clique deploys this mode of preserving its illegitimate rule in a time when the local comprador-landlord oligarchy is split, the military bureaucracy is riddled with dissension, and its neoliberal policies are challenged by popular opposition (including significant sectors of church people, indigenous communities, and the fractured Moro separatist movement). Extra-judicial murders of its legal critics is a symptom of the regime’s structural weakness (failure of the court system, the parliament, legal institutions, and other state ideological apparatus); however, its persistence can demoralize the democratic resistance and lead to a de jure consolidation of the most rightist and reactionary elements of the system. Arroyo may aspire to a compromise of ruling-class elements via a constitutional dictatorship (mediated through charter change and repressive ordinances) but, given the dependency of the State on remittances and the extremely unstable global market, U.S. rightist militarism (now suffering intolerable defeats), and the internal contradictions of the local elite also beleaguered by grassroots refusals, she can only desperately cling to power by prolonging the fragmentation of the resistance and the acquiescence of the venal, corruptible parts of the bureaucratic-military apparatus.
The impending disintegration of the Arroyo regime is evidenced by its resort to intimidation, bureaucratic repression, and death squads. It is bound to implode in one big catastrophic upheaval that will unleash indiscriminate violence and dehumanizing abuses symptomatic of the advanced decay of the bankrupt neocolonial system. Or it will exit peacefully if disciplined mass mobilization in the Metro Manila area and elsewhere can prevent the regime’s deployment of whatever armed elements it can use to postpone its ruin. To be sure, U.S. intervention — military and diplomatic — will try to save its lackeys, or sacrifice them for a new set of servants who will do Washington’s bidding, namely, U.S.-tutored military officers and unscrupulous business technocrats tied to transnational financial-corporate interests. Either way, there is no escape from the intensifying crisis of a moribund clientelist system ridden with irresolvable contradictions. In due time, this tactic of gangster rule will implode and force the U.S. and its local agents to replace the Arroyo clique with one that can command a plausible consensus without resort to unmitigated criminal machinations. This moment will be determined by the emergence of a new class realignment and, more importantly, by the critical unity of the nationalist, democratic, and progressive forces.
One anticipates in the next few months the rapid mobilization of conscienticized Filipinos, popular democratic formations, and vast sectors of civil society against Arroyo’s tyranny. As I have suggested earlier, Arroyo’s isolation springs from the confusion of authority with coercive force. This may be categorized as a form of Bonapartism in the periphery when the old ruling class had already lost but the masses have not yet acquired the ability to govern (Poulantzas 1974). Exposed for cheating, lying, and stealing, Arroyo’s autocratic rule can no longer claim even a semblance of legitimacy. Nor can the State apparatus and agencies prostituted by Arroyo claim the mandate that solely emanates from the Filipino people, assuming that a constitutional democratic republic is still the framework of governance.
The Arroyo regime’s moral bankruptcy and political decay have precipitated its total repudiation and condemnation by the Filipino masses (see, for example, the sentiments voiced in the editorial of Daily Tribune Online, August 17, 2006). Civil liberties promulgated in the 1987 Constitution and by the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, however, can only be guaranteed by organized public demonstrations, street rallies, strikes, and other visible enactment or exercise of social and civic rights. Revolution is precisely the concrete sequence of events, the process of transformation of the system, in the totality of its sociohistorical determinations (Therborn 1980). Progressive sectors must appeal to all peoples around the world concerned with justice, democracy, and human dignity to express solidarity with the Filipino people in overthrowing the U.S.-backed Arroyo regime, releasing all political prisoners, and restoring full and genuine sovereignty to the Filipino people.
1 This is a pattern which has almost become institutionalized for lack of any genuine democratic, nationalist ethos, given the function of this organ of government (established by the U.S. colonial authority) to suppress the revolutionary forces of the first Philippine Republic, the Moro Sultanate resistance, and numerous peasant insurrections (including the Huk uprising) constantly reproduced by the fierce class divisions in a semi-feudal and neocolonized formation. It is doubtful if a Hugo Chavez, or even a middling clone, can germinate from this Pentagon-supervised organ of repression.
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E. San Juan, Jr. was recently Fulbright Professor of American Studies at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, and visiting professor of literature and cultural studies at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan, Republic of China. He directs the Philippines Cultural Studies Center in Connecticut and helps with the Philippine Forum in New York City. His most recent books are Racism and Cultural Studies (Duke University Press) and Working Through the Contradictions (Bucknell University Press). He is currently a research fellow at the Bellagio Italy Study Center of the Rockefeller Foundation.