The Philippines: Who’s to Blame for the Country’s Woes?


4-11-06, 9:14 am

This seems to be a bad week for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who celebrated her 59th birthday April 5 as criticisms against her and her administration are mounting.

An April 5 editorial of the New York Times warned that her “increasingly authoritarian tendencies” is a threat to democracy.  It described her as a “one-time reformer” who is “reviving bad memories of crony corruption, presidential vote-rigging and intimidation of critical journalists.” The editorial scored the government for intensifying pressure on its critics, especially the media. It said that no other Philippine government has tried to muzzle the press after the Marcos era. 

Expectedly, Malacanang raised a furor over such description.  It invited the New York Times to visit the Philippines to “breathe the fresh air of democracy.” On the same page, national dailies featured an April 6 rally against Charter Change led by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance) being hosed and dispersed by the police The administration claims that its moves – repressive policies, attempts to intimidate the press, arrest its critics, kill members of militant organizations – are meant to save democracy. What then is its concept of democracy?  Is it the freedom to corrupt the government, and to suppress, oppress and exploit the people?

Arroyo’s allies also claimed that the editorial failed to consider the economic gains of the administration. But an Asian Development Bank (ADB) report released April 6 showed that the Philippines’ growth rate of 5.1 percent is one of the slowest in Southeast Asia.  It is second to the last, surpassing only the 4.5 percent growth of Thailand, which has consistently topped the Philippines since 2001 and is projected to surpass the country’s growth rate again by 2007.

The ADB report criticized the Philippines for its dependence on personal consumption, buoyed by remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFW), for the economy’s growth. The continuous flow of OFW remittances was also found to be the main factor for the peso’s appreciation. The report also revealed that growth in gross fixed capital formation, which includes both private and public investments, declined. “Shrinking investment,” said the report, “not only blunts current output growth but constrains future potential.” 

More importantly, the impact of OFW remittances is temporary. Its volume is dependent on international developments and it does not contribute to strengthening the fundamentals and base of the economy, not to mention the social costs of labor migration.  

Newspapers also featured the Senate calling for the resignation of Macapagal-Arroyo last April 6. The senators, the United Opposition and militant people’s organizations demanded that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo emulate Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s sacrifice and sense of propriety. Thaksin resigned April 4 after the snap elections and in the wake of calls for his resignation on charges of corruption. Malacanang claimed that unlike Thailand, there is no public outrage against the government. 

But a Social Weather Station survey last March 8-14 and released April 3 revealed that 53 percent of respondents are dissatisfied with the performance of Macapagal-Arroyo; 48 percent preferred Macapagal-Arroyo’s removal through people power; and 44 percent wanted her to resign. The opinion was split regarding her removal through coup d’ etat, 36 percent in agreement and 35 percent opposed. Although the opinion was divided, this is the highest rating favoring a military coup.     

The Arroyo administration blames her critics and the opposition for the negative opinion of the New York Times and the problems of the economy. But accusations that Macapagal-Arroyo committed corruption, electoral fraud, human rights violations, and attacks on civil liberties echoing locally and internationally cannot persist without basis. To claim that these are all lies being invented and spread by the opposition is an insult to the intelligence of Filipinos and the international community.

The government cannot merely ignore the results of opinion surveys and issues raised against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and simply claim that criticisms against her are false and the handiwork of the opposition. Its tactics of evading the truth, political maneuverings, transactional politics and intimidation are bringing the political processes of the country to ruin. Its track of giving in to the demands of the U.S. in exchange for the latter’s continued support to the regime is wreaking havoc on the economy and causing widespread bankruptcy, poverty and unemployment among Filipinos. 

The Macapagal-Arroyo administration has only itself to blame for the country’s woes. It could either do a Thaksin or wait for the dissatisfied Filipino people who want her removed through people power to come out en masse.  By then the administration will have to contend with a genuine unstoppable train of people fighting for their rights, not the remote-controlled one which it claims as clamoring for charter change.

From Bulatlat