It was Feb. 24, the 20th anniversary of the famous “People Power Revolution” that brought down the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, and Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was desperate.
In February 1986 just the right mix came together: hundreds of thousands of Filipinos took to the streets, joined by the powerful Catholic Church and the business class. The final push came when disgruntled high-ranking
military officers renounced their allegiance to Marcos, and the U.S. government withdrew its support from the dictator.
With Filipinos planning to commemorate the anniversary, Arroyo was worried that history was repeating itself. So Arroyo issued Presidential Proclamation 1017 on Feb. 24, declaring a “State of Emergency.” She claimed that high-ranking military officers were working with the left to stage a coup. Reminiscent of Marcos’s martial law, Arroyo’s
decree banned street demonstrations, shut down the Daily Tribune newspaper, placed troops outside the TV station ABS-CBN, arrested a progressive congressman and threatened to arrest five other lawmakers.
Arroyo came to power in 2001 when “People Power II” ousted the scandal-ridden presidency of Joseph Estrada. In 2004, Arroyo used a vote-padding scheme to steal the presidential election. The fraud was exposed last year, adding to anger over her regime’s corruption, human rights abuses, and failures to address crippling poverty, stagnant
wages and unemployment. Last summer it seemed that a popular movement could score a victory in ousting a third president, but it was unable to force Arroyo from office.
Observers cast doubt on an attempted coup, however. Military personnel said that they only wanted to show their opposition to Arroyo and the left said it wanted to commemorate “People Power I.”
Professor Jose Maria Sison of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, a united front of revolutionary organizations, said, “There is nothing wrong for any group of the military and police of the reactionary government
to seek and have an alliance within the broad united front against the Arroyo regime, provided the military and police forces stay within the limits of respecting democratic rights and upholding civilian supremacy.”
Arroyo received criticism internationally, including from the Bush administration. Indicative of the power the United States holds in its former colony, soon after a senior U.S. diplomat paid Arroyo a visit, she lifted Proclamation 1017 on March 3. Since then little has changed: the warrantless arrests, ban on rallies and media censorship continue.
Public anger with Arroyo has been growing. Last year, 174 activists, movement lawyers and church people were killed. Poverty has deepened, leading more Filipinos – now an astonishing 10 percent of the population – to seek work abroad. The presence of 5,500 U.S. troops in the Philippines has also drawn considerable opposition, and many Filipinos see a link between the growing human rights abuses and the presence of foreign forces.
Progressive forces in the Philippines say their goal is to gain enough strength to overthrow the government for good and end U.S. dominance. During a recent visit to New York, Father Rex Reyes, program secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, explained that in the process of ousting presidents, “True leaders do not just
appear, but are born in the process of a genuine struggle for revolutionary change. That is why Christians have to stay in the struggle. This is where we show hope.”
For more information see nispop.org,
Network in Solidarity with the People of the Philippines.