by Carol P. Araullo
Now the cat is out of the bag. Resigned Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz recently revealed, in so many words, that the Arroyo administration contemplated declaring martial law last January in light of intelligence reports of a looming open rebellion in the military cum massive street protests calling for Mrs. Arroyo’s ouster. More telling is Mr. Cruz’ admission that the United States government, through then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and US Director for National Intelligence John Negroponte, explicitly nixed the plan and signaled that the Bush administration would not support such a move.
That Mrs. Arroyo eventually stopped short of declaring martial law but instead settled for the proclamation of a legally ambiguous “state of national emergency,” Presidential Proclamation 1017, last February 24, says a lot about whose word matters with her administration.
To the doubting Thomases out there who insist that we are a bona fide republic and that the US is not in the habit of interfering in the country’s domestic affairs, think again. But one may well ask, isn’t this kind of interference, a good-intentioned and benevolent one? Unfortunately, such is not the track record of the US government’s involvement in the volatile political situation in this country especially at its most critical junctures.
At the turn of the century, the McKinley government deceptively offered assistance to the first Philippine republic under General Emilio Aguinaldo, in the revolution against Spain, only to subjugate and colonize the Filipino nation for the next half century after a bloody war of aggression and occupation. In more recent history, the Nixon government backed then President Ferdinand Marcos when he declared martial law and thereby established a fascist dictatorship. In later years, then Vice President George H. W. Bush praised him for his “adherence to democratic principles” at a time when Mr. Marcos was being universally reviled for his regime’s gross violations of human rights and the wanton plunder of the economy by his favored foreign and domestic business partners. It didn’t take long for the Reagan administration, to drop Mr. Marcos like a hot potato when his authoritarian rule was rapidly coming apart and threatened to drag down as well vital US economic, political and most especially, military, interests.
The lesson is not lost on Mrs. Arroyo and her cabal of advisers. No matter whose administration is at the helm of the US government, it will not allow the strategic and medium-term geopolitical interests of the world’s sole Superpower to be compromised, much more, threatened by the political crises besetting any ruling regime in the Philippines.
The warnings from Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Negroponte were meant to drive home the point: declaring martial law in a desperate bid to shore up Mrs. Arroyo’s hold on power is a risky, messy business that the US considers a serious threat to its own interests. Corollary to this, if Mrs. Arroyo can’t hack it as the dependable and stable US ally, some say puppet, in the Philippines, while maintaining the trappings of a democratic regime, she is in deep trouble and cannot rely on the US to back up a bare-faced, iron-fist rule.
Thus, the Arroyo regime’s resort to PP 1017, not yet an open declaration of martial law but with enough legal verbiage to cloak the regime with “emergency” powers. She used these powers to ban mass demonstrations that she feared would mature into an actual people’s uprising ala “people power”; to preempt the plan of anti-Arroyo military/police officers and men to “withdraw support” and thus nip an outright military/police rebellion in the bud; to illegally arrest and detain her political enemies, especially those she claimed to be behind a so-called “left-right” conspiracy to overthrow her widely perceived illegitimate government; and to clamp down on outspokenly critical and increasingly adversarial mass media establishments that had the propensity to fuel mass discontent and could trigger an explosion of outrage at her unpopular regime.
Thus, Mrs. Arroyo’s renewed declaration of “all-out war against the Left”; that is, against both the armed revolutionary movement and the legal, unarmed democratic mass movement. This has resulted in the extrajudicial killings, attempted killings and enforced disappearances of at least 1,400 activists, their supporters and those who happened to be in the way of the regime’s urban death squads and military campaigns of suppression in the rebellious countryside.
Thus, the unprecedented filing of countless harassment suits against Mrs. Arroyo’s political opponents — from leaders of militant mass organizations to local government officials to legislators to media practitioners to former government bureaucrats.
All these without having to resort to a martial law declaration, as Mrs. Arroyo’s principal foreign backer, the US government, had made clear its preferences, its inclinations and its not-so-benevolent intentions.###
*Published in Business World 1-2 December 2006