Elections in the Philippines: Illusion of Democracy?

Crisis and authoritarianism

The last six years have been brutal particularly for progressive and democratic forces. Most dramatic are the outright attacks on the mass movement and progressive political parties, including political killings, enforced disappearances, and assassination attempts. The attacks are wide-ranging and include black propaganda and vilification campaigns, illegal arrests, interrogations and torture. There are also pseudo-legal attacks on national leaders involving trumped-up rebellion and murder charges.

The suppression of dissent has at times taken on a legal façade falling just short of outright Martial Law. There was the “calibrated pre-emptive response” declared in September 2005 against protesters aside from a more assertive implementation of the Marcos era “no permit-no rally.” Executive Order (EO) No. 464, also declared in September 2005, prevented officials from appearing before investigations of high-level government electoral cheating and corruption. Presidential Proclamation No. 1017’s legally ambiguous “state of national emergency” was declared and sent the political signal that the Arroyo regime would not hesitate to mobilize its full powers against any and all opposition.

It is also worth mentioning how the deepening economic crisis and the shrinking of economic spoils from power also appear to have had another effect. The faction of the elite not in power – the mainstream political opposition – has also to some extent been subjected to political repression albeit to a much less degree than the democratic mass movement.

The post-election scenario augurs even more dangerous times for democracy. The National ID System has already begun to be implemented even if only on a limited scale so far. The National Security Plan’s (NISP) Oplan Bantay Laya II has already been drawn up with targets going beyond alleged terrorists to also include revolutionary armed groups and civilian Leftist organizations. All this coincides with global U.S. military aggression waging a self-declared “war on terror” that, among others, aims to secure the Philippines as a key strategic location in East and Southeast Asia. There have already been massive increases in U.S. military aid and intervention under the Arroyo regime aimed at eliminating not just armed liberation movements but also nationalist opposition to the U.S. military presence.

The political situation is most obviously about President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo fighting for sheer political survival. She is beleaguered by issues of illegitimacy following the fraudulent 2004 presidential election, by the persistence of high-level and grand-scale corruption, and by the economic problems caused by retrogressive “free market” policies. There is widespread public dissatisfaction which already resulted in two impeachment moves and a vigorous ouster campaign.

The current administration’s survival is now critically dependent on securing greater political control through the mid-term elections. Particularly important is control over the House of Representatives to forestall another impeachment move. Its comprehensive campaign to survive includes another episode of massive electoral fraud, using public funds for electioneering, brazen patronage politics, harassment of local opposition politicians and even subverting the party-list system. The political killings and attacks in turn are aimed at maiming, if not decimating, the most organized and effective forces demanding real change. The regime also seeks support from the U.S. by promising charter change to further open up the economy and to allow the wholesale return of U.S. troops.

However, the political situation can also be seen at another level: as an elite-dominated system striving to preserve itself amid deepening economic and political crisis. The Filipino people have been engaged in a centuries-long struggle that is creating the real foundations for democracy. Against them are the elite threatened by the rumble underfoot who are reacting viciously to preserve their rule. The hundreds of thousands of volunteers mobilizing across the country to watch the polls are engaged in a noble effort. Then again, the fundamental social change sought will only come when millions of Filipinos are able to genuinely claim political power and put in place a true democracy.(Bulatlat.com)

Share This Post