Coup attempt and crackdown in the Philippines – some background information

The NYTimes reports:

Saying that the Philippine government had foiled a military coup attempt and still faced the threat of violent overthrow, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared emergency rule on Friday and banned rallies marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of Ferdinand Marcos, the former dictator.
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Ignoring the ban on rallies, former President Corazon Aquino, who remains a popular figure here, led thousands of demonstrators in a march through the financial district calling for Mrs. Arroyo’s resignation. The opposition has crystallized around allegations that Mrs. Arroyo rigged national elections in 2004, as well as charges of government corruption and human rights abuses, charges that she vigorously denies.

Mrs. Aquino urged Mrs. Arroyo to “make the supreme sacrifice by resigning.” Dozens of demonstrators were arrested.

Calls for Arroyo’s resignation are nothing new. Here is a photograph of graffitti saying “oust Gloria” that I took on December 7, 2005 on the wall of a street in a somewhat poor but not impoverished neighborhood of Manila.

Ever since the fall of Marcos in 1986 in the face of overwhelming popular protests, the threat of another such EDSA “people power” rebellion (named after a main street in Manila) looms every time the administration is in crisis. Not coincidentally, Aquino became president following the first EDSA rebellion-taking over for Marcos- and Arroyo became president by virtue of her being VP when the corrupt movie star and darling of the lower class electorate was forced out of office during EDSA 2. The big difference is that Aquino was a major organizer of the first EDSA, risking her life to protest against Marcos. And the threat was very real, as his government had killed her husband for political opposition. By contrast, Arroyo seems to be very much a typical politician.

Below I provide more detailed information, typed from a book published just last year on the political history of the Philippines, that I picked up during my recent trip there.

Excerpts from page 278-283 of State and Society in the Philippines, by Patricio N. Abinales and Donna J. Amoroso, 2005. I’ve bolded the most important bits.

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo–trained economist, daughter of President Dioshado Macapagal, and veteran politician–“became head of state not because she was the unanimous choice at EDSA 2 but simply because, as vice president, the constitution said that she was next in line,” a succession that was eventually approved by the Supreme Court. Her careful handling of Estrada’s detention and a publicity offensive portraying her as “pro-poor” partly defused lower-class anger, but it was only with the general elections of May 2001 that she achieved a majority in the legislature and the support of local officials. These did not come without a price, of course. Creating a congressional majority required compromise and the dispensing of pork barrel funds. These compromises alienated NGOs and Pos, who accused her of pursuing her own political survival “at the expense of civil society and progressive forces.” The poor apparently had not forgiven her, either, electing Estrada’s wife and his former police chief (Panfilo Lacson) to the Senate and several of his cronies to the House or Representatives. This meant that Arroyo’s legislative agenda would encounter some resistance.
Government’s ability to deal with these social problems continued to be hampered by debt servicing, which consumed more than one-fourth of the national budget in 2002.

In any case, modest economic accomplishments were again overshadowed by continuing political turmoil. Despite lifting the death penalty moratorium for kidnappers, abductions continued unabated. In June 2001, after the Abu Sayyaf Group kidnapped sixteen people from a central Philippine resort, senior military officers were accused of helping the group escape a besieged position on Basilan in exchange for a cash payment.
To dispel the growing impression of weakness, Arroyo announced, in her July 2002 address to the nation, her goal of building a “strong republic.” She followed up with a number of attempts to assert the state’s regulatory power and put its own house in order.
Arroyo’s anticorruption drives signaled her intent to make the state “autonomous of dominant classes and sectors, so that it represents the people’s interests.” But these well-publicized actions backfired in some instances, only serving to highlight the real limitations of state capacity.

Critics on the left labeled her “strong republic” a ruse to bring back dictatorship. Continuing Estrada’s policy against armed southern Islamists, Arroyo approved a “visiting forces agreement” with the United States in 2002 that allowed longer-term visits by American troops; this act arguably skirted a constitutional provision banning the presence of foreign troops on Philippines territory Soon after, U.S. troops began to assist the AFP in pursuing the Abu Sayyaf Group. While the collaboration was well received by many Filipinos, including those in Muslim Mindanao,m in Manila it provoked intense criticism. And when she pledged support for the American “war on terror” in advance of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, critics ranging from the CPP to nationalist academics branded her a “puppet,” exacerbating her strained relationship with reformists.

The year 2002 ended with the news that government had overshot its budget deficit target by 71 percent because of poor tax collection. A despondent Arroyo announced on December 30—the anniversary of Joe Rizal’s execution—that she would not campaign for her own presidential term in the May 2004 election and would instead devote the remainder of her time in office to policy implementation free from the “influence and interference of narrow sectional interests.” Her decision not to run was received with warm public support, and her approval ratings began to rise.

Arroyo’s critics and political opponents did not relent in their attacks, however, continuing to allege widespread corruption by the president, her family, and her allies. By Novermeber 2003, acquiescing to pressure from allies and angered by attacks on her family, the president announced her dscision to “defer” retirement and “offer [her]self to the electorate in 2004.” This reversal confirmed her critics’ suspicians, but a clear alternative candidate and philosophy of governance was lacking.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was elected by a margin of 1,123,576 votes out of roughly twenty-five million cast.
Bergonia points to how “the normal delivery of government services [was used] as a campaign tool without making it look like what it really was—an attempt to capture votes.”