Friday, October 28, 2005

America's Interests and the Fate of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo

Last July, as the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo teetered on the brink of collapse when former President Corazon Aquino, Senate President Franklin M. Drilon and ten of her most trusted Cabinet Secretaries called upon her to resign, a Senior Fellow of the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, Dana R. Dillon mused upon the Crisis in the Philippines and What It Means for the U.S.:
Caught on tape discussing her reelection with an election official, and with her husband allegedly involved in a gambling scam, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is in political hot water and may not finish her term. Ten members of Arroyo’s Cabinet, including key members of her economic team, recently resigned from their posts, urging that Arroyo follow their lead and put an end to the economic and political turmoil plaguing the country. The opposition in the Philippine Congress has already filed a motion to impeach Arroyo, which will be debated when Congress reassembles at the end of July.

Of course we know what happened to that lil exercise in impeaching a President this time around, but I appreciate Mr. Dillon's accurate and factual narration of the situation as it stood then. Now, I think that Mr. Dillon's enumeration of the American interests in the fate of Mrs. Arroyo, are worth looking at again in the light of the events that have transpired since those fateful days in July both in the Gloriagate crisis and the war on terror and broader allied interests.

Mr. Dillon lists three key points:
1. The war on terrorism will continue to take a back seat to the political mess in Manila. The southern Philippines is a hotbed of Islamic terrorism where two Muslim insurgencies, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), are based. Philippine military operations in the southern Philippines have been dwindling, despite persistent claims that the ASG, MILF, and Jemaah Islamiyah—all with al Qaeda connections—are training and operating there. President Arroyo’s commitment to the war on terrorism came into question when she withdrew a 60-man military medical team from Iraq after a Philippine citizen was kidnapped. Since 9/11, Arroyo’s support for the war on terror has waned, and there has been little substance to her rhetoric. Now faced with probably the gravest peril of her political life, it is unlikely that the war on terrorism will be given a renewed priority in her agenda.

2. Economic development and reform and trade expansion will be delayed as politicians focus on Manila politics. Under President Arroyo, inflation has risen, corruption is unchecked, and government spending has increased, which, combined with low tax revenues, has led to massive budget deficits. Foreign direct investment in 2004 leveled off at $680 million, well below the $3 to 4 billion average of other ASEAN countries. Amid accusations of electoral fraud, Arroyo took preliminary steps to ease the corporate tax burden and root out corruption, hoping to attract overseas investors. Nevertheless, the Philippines’ credit rating was recently downgraded from “stable” to “negative” by two major ratings agencies due to political uncertainty. Arroyo’s efforts have fallen short of expectations, and economic concerns will continue to be unaddressed due to the current political turmoil.

3. Chinese influence will continue to expand while Arroyo fights for her political life. China has developed and refined a policy of helping regimes in trouble by offering considerable political and economic support. This will become true for the Philippines, as China moves away from threatening rhetoric on territorial disputes in the South China Sea and employs a new approach. Beijing offered Manila $3 million for the establishment of a Chinese language-training program for the Philippine military, donated engineering equipment, and invited the Philippines to participate in naval exercises. Moreover, in the midst of stern U.S. criticism of the withdrawal of the Philippine medical team from Iraq, President Arroyo signed a confidential protocol with China on the exploitation of South China Sea resources. With her presidency in dire straits, Arroyo will gladly accept more largesse from Beijing.

Since last July when Dillon wrote the above, President Arroyo has succeeded in alienating, nay infuriating, a large and growing segment of the country's social, political, religious, military, business and intellectual leadership. She has, in the characterization of Manuel L. Quezon III exercised "a scorched earth policy" against her opposition.

In so doing, she is devastating key democratic institutions like Congress and laying waste every moral tradition that is the heart and soul of any democracy. The Philippine government is undergoing a process of multiple organ failure or at least nervous exhaustion, as resources of time and manpower have been dedicated mainly to preventing the impeachment and ouster of the President by daily stamping out of fires, stemming leaks from becoming open tell-alls. Exec. Order 464 has been called a gag order by constitutional expert Joaquin Bernas, though it needs no expertise to adjudge it as such.

The government can still look good on the front pages of the captive trimedia, but it is deeply dysfunctional. It is dangerous for anyone who might rely on its ability to discharge its duties, to safeguard the public, and to fulfill its commitments to the nation's allies.

President Arroyo has failed to get anti-terror legislation through Congress because she has never made the case with the Filipino people that she can lead them in a war on terror, when she has vacillated and been inconsistent in her dealings with the terrorists herself. Instead she has focussed on a so-called peace treaty with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that is now turning out to be another of her transactional deals involving ancestral land domain deals with such as Eid Kabalu and that set of "liberators" of the Bangsa Moro People. All this peace treaty signing is going on while a furious and little reported hunt for the Bali-2 bombers is going on in Mindanao.

Despite the insistence of the Left upon it, most Filipinos don't look at America through the resentful eyes of nationalism. America is where four million Filipinos live, work and send money from to keep this blasted archipelago afloat and lots of families from starving!

Consider this. Every child born to any union involving even one of those four million Filipino-Americans produces a natural born citizen of both countries. This is because the United States Constitution uses the principle of place of birth, jus soli in qualifying its natural born citizens; while the Philippine Constitution grants citizenship to anyone at least one of whose parents is a Filipino citizen.

I don't believe for one minute the claims of some that the Philippines has once more fallen off of Washington's list of critical concerns. Or else why would the United States Embassy in Manila and the Philippine government announce the installation of a nuclear material detection system for the Port of Manila?

I don't think there is any loss of understanding that what threatens Basilan threatens Manila threatens San Francisco threatens Washington. Now where did Joseph Musomelli think the weakest link was?


Punzi said...

Dean Jorge:

I had to wake up early because I had to prepare for a hearing and drive Bea to school at 6:00 a.m.

As you may have read, I even had to stamina to blog "Not once, but twice!" (Heheheheh!)

Edwin Lacierda said...


GMA's scorched earth policy can also be termed a "March to the Sea" policy. She is yet to drown us all in misery.