The Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Legacy

Gomez is a trustee of Action for Economic Reforms. This article was published in the Opinion Section, Yellow Pad Column of BusinessWorld, January 28,2008 edition, pages S1/4 and S1/5.

Some of the people I know do not want GMA ousted. There are those who consider themselves linked to the interests of her administration and are therefore partial to it. Others defend their continued support (mostly inactive support) for her leadership with the question, “But who else?” After Joseph Estrada’s poor performance as a national leader, they do not want to take a chance on another not-so-educated leader like Vice President Noli de Castro.

It is my impression, and surveys confirm this, that far more people want her out—for many reasons. Some of them just think she is antipatica. They find her voice irritating, her mien smug and her pronouncements downright insincere. Personally, I don’t think these reasons are invalid or inferior. The public is often constrained to judge public figures on a fairly superficial basis, and it is not always easy to get the real “low down” on politicos who invariably sing their own praises and have a slew of officials echoing the same. In fact, many politicos get elected to office on just such a superficial basis, and their votes are as valid as anybody else’s.

I do not support this administration, and I would like to explain what it is that I find most objectionable and enraging about it. I agree with those who believe it to be insincere, particularly about the repeated pronouncements that it is the conveyor of economic progress. Every time the administration is challenged on an issue—for irregular practices (like the distribution of money bags to local government officials in Malacañang) or apparently corrupt practices (like the fertilizer fund) or for abuse of power (like the Garci scandal and the political killings)—the administration’s statements attempt to divert the public’s attention with the president’s concern for her economic agenda. All opposition to the acts or policies of her administration is labeled as detractions from Her Most Graciousness’ ability to deliver our “economic take-off.” In fact, the propaganda line of her administration is that such an “economic take-off” is Her Most Graciousness’ legacy and Her Most Gracious Self holds on to power like Super-Glue only in order to deliver it to us. Never mind if there are no jobs and the only options for most Filipinos are to leave the country and find work abroad, or apply at call centers or just make tiis.

I think the legacy of GMA’s administration is that it has, like no other elected (although there is basis to doubt that particular fact) government, thwarted the law and abused the prerogatives of power.  Unfortunately, whenever this happens, there is no other recourse for the citizenry but to challenge the legality and/or constitutionality of her actions via the courts, but she herself is immune from suit. The Supreme Court has upheld many of these challenges but in the meanwhile, she is able to punish and terrorize opposition (from Congress, the political opposition, activists, etc…). Space does not allow for an extensive discussion of all these instances but to support my argument, I will name a few blatant examples and I am certain the reader can recall the rest.

On September 21, 2005, on the anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law, the Arroyo administration invoked Batasan Pambansa 880, the Public Assembly Act of 1985, declaring that “The rule of calibrated preemptive response (CPR) is now in force, in lieu of maximum tolerance.”  Demonstrators were brutally dispersed and many of them arrested. Challenged by numerous petitioners, the Supreme Court ruled that CPR was null and void and could not replace the rule of maximum tolerance.

Also in September 2005, to protect herself and her administration from investigations into the alleged overpricing in the North Rail Project, the fertilizer fund mismanagement and the Garci tapes, etc., Mrs. Arroyo issued Executive Order 464.  E.O. 464 invoked an expanded definition of executive privilege to prevent Congress’ access to information from officials in the executive branch of government. Officials were barred from appearing at Congressional investigations without her express permission and/or that of their immediate superiors.

Again, the administration of Mrs. Arroyo had unilaterally ordered and applied an expanded interpretation of their prerogatives. It should be mentioned here that two military officials (Major General Gudani and Colonel Alexander Balutan) were made subject to court-martial procedures for testifying in Congress without the explicit permission of Mrs. Arroyo. Brought before the Judiciary, the Supreme Court ruled that executive privilege can only be invoked by the President and that it covered specific types of information (military, diplomatic, identity of informants and internal discussions on issues), not the various officials in the Executive. However, the practice continues in a milder form as we have recently witnessed in more recent investigations.

In February 2006, the President declared a state of national emergency through Presidential Proclamation 1017, through which she “hereby command the Armed Forces of the Philippines, to maintain law and order throughout the Philippines, prevent or suppress all forms of lawless violence as well as any act of insurrection or rebellion and to enforce obedience to all the laws and to all decrees, orders and regulations promulgated by me personally or upon my direction.” Her justification for this Proclamation/Order was that the political opposition had joined forces and was conspiring with the Left and the Right, who she referred to as “the historical enemies of the democratic Philippine State”, to “bring down the duly constituted Government elected in May 2004.” Incidentally, she had no objection to these forces when they supported her in the movement to oust former President Estrada.

In implementing this decree all rallies in celebration of the EDSA revolution were dispersed and a number of demonstrators arrested (notably Randy David) charged with inciting to sedition because they had marched with people whose t-shirts stated “Oust Gloria.”  Warrantless arrests, search and seizures, and the take-over of facilities were authorized. Perceived opposition from print media was subjected to the harassment of having their offices raided, their documents searched and confiscated and police forces stationed at their work places. Broadcast media was warned to be “cooperative” or else. The duly elected (there is no doubt about it) representatives of the militant party list groups (the Batasan Five) were under threat of arrest and had to take semi-permanent shelter in the House itself and one of them, Crispin Beltran of Anakpawis/KMU, was arrested at his home on a 1985 charge of inciting to rebellion.

Eventually, after much expense and effort by the opposition and citizen’s groups, the Supreme Court ruled that the President (unlike the dictator Marcos) did not have the authority to promulgate decrees. The takeovers of media facilities were thus declared unauthorized. But the damage had been done. The very experience is much like a Sword of Damocles’ threat of potential harassment hanging over all media. It was more difficult for the Batasan Five, who continued to be under threat of arrest for several months, and it took Crispin Beltran many more months to secure his release. More recently, we have witnessed the arrest of media personnel in the Peninsula incident.

But the most damning evidence of this administration’s subversion of the rule of law is the number of political killings that remain unresolved. Citizen’s groups and human rights organizations aver that there have been at least 800 killings during the Arroyo administration. Furthermore, while it is commonly believed that the police and or military forces are responsible for these killings, the military attempts to place the blame on internal strife among rebel groups. Certainly, it is not a coincidence that those that have been murdered or have disappeared are members of activist groups opposed to this administration or connected to the opposition. Strangely, there are few, if any, successful or completed investigations into these killings and according to Amnesty International (AI) only one soldier has been charged. Most damning of all is that not a single conviction has been obtained.

Another anniversary of the EDSA revolution is just around the corner. To me, it is a time of lamentation. I believe that Mrs. Arroyo was with us at EDSA in 1986. She was certainly present at EDSA dos. Yet her legacy in government has hardly been anything that can be linked, even vaguely, to the ideals of civil liberties and political accountability. In some ways she has topped the former dictator that she once upon a time opposed. That is the sad and terrible legacy of this administration.

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