Sunday, March 05, 2006

Analysis: A Test For Democracy

The Arroyo administration has a recipe for dictatorship – calibrated pre-emptive response, Executive Order No. 464, the proposed amendments to the 1987 Constitution and the Anti-Terrorism Bill pending before Congress. Proclamation No. 1017 was a test case. The declaration of the state of emergency shows what President Arroyo is capable of.

Bulatlat, the Philippines's alternative weekly newsmagazine
Vol. VI, No. 5, March 5-11, 2006

When President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Proclamation No. 1017 placing the country under a “state of national emergency,” she drew a lot of flak from different sectors of society. Some called it an act of desperation to silence her critics. Others called it an act of betrayal to the spirit of EDSA coming as it is on the 20th commemoration of People Power 1, when the Filipino people toppled a dictatorship. It has been also called an attempt to impose martial law once more.

Proclamation No. 1017 itself was vague. Lawyers said it was merely a description of a situation. It referred to a conspiracy of “some elements of the political opposition with the extreme left, represented by the NDF-CPP-NPA and the extreme right, represented by the military adventurists,” who seek to bring down the government…is hindering the growth of the economy and sabotaging the people's confidence in government and their faith in the future of this country.” It also mentioned that “the claims of these elements have been recklessly magnified by certain segments of the national media.” It ended with President Arroyo calling on the Armed Forces of the Philippines “to maintain law and order throughout the Philippines, prevent or suppress all forms of lawless violence as well any act of insurrection or rebellion and to enforce obedience to all the laws and to all decrees, orders and regulations promulgated by (Arroyo) personally or upon (her) direction.”

Even as the government was hard put at explaining that it merely intended to save the republic from the “unholy alliance” of the left and the right, nobody seemed to believe it. The Arroyo administration immediately cancelled all EDSA celebrations and rally permits issued for February 24. Consequently, it attempted to disperse all rallies on that day even if these were conducted peacefully.

To lend credence to the administration’s claims, it immediately arrested former Philippine Constabulary Chief Ramon Montaño and Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Party-list Rep. Crispin Beltran. It also tried to arrest Bayan Muna (People First) Rep. Satur Ocampo, Teddy Casino and Joel Virador; Anakpawis Representative Rafael Mariano and Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Liza Maza who are all now under the “protective custody” (read: detention) of the House of Representatives.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) raided the printing press and office of the The Daily Tribune and stationed soldiers to guard Channels 2 and 7.

Subsequently, it filed a case of rebellion against 15 people including those mentioned above, Magdalo officers, and other personalities associated with Bayan Muna. It came out with a list of 50 persons it accused of being connected with the CPP-NPA-NDFP with pending arrest warrants.

PNP Director General Arturo Lomibao also issued a warning against media agencies to abide by a set of guidelines to be issued by the PNP. He warned that the police would be monitoring media broadcast and publications and would not hesitate to take over media agencies that violate these guidelines.

The selection of targets of the Arroyo administration revealed its intention to silence its most consistent critics. The legal left proves to be a thorn on the side of the administration. But its proposition that the legal and underground left are the same is both absurd and dangerous. This is the very reason for the killing of leaders and members of progressive party-list groups in areas outside the National Capital Region (NCR).

The legal left was a convenient scapegoat, a warning sample and a test case. With the arrest of individuals identified with the left, the Arroyo administration thought that it had proven its conspiracy theory; and it had sent a signal to its critics that it would not tolerate dissent.

The Arroyo administration tried to gauge the reaction of the public to these arrests. It did not arrest former President Cory Aquino, although it warned that it would arrest her if she joined the rally last February 24. It also did not arrest former Vice-President Teofisto Guingona and other personalities of the opposition for it would have projected an image that it was similar to the Marcos dictatorship, which might not sit well with the general public.

The case of The Daily Tribune was likewise the same. It served as a warning sample and a test case. There were also reports that all television programs of Bro. Eddie Villanueva of Bangon (Rise up) and the award-winning radio program Ngayon Na, Bayan! (Now, People!) of Kodao Productions were taken off the air. It did not raid the big ones such as the Philippine Daily Inquirer. It also did not close down all media agencies like Marcos did since doing so could backfire on the Arroyo administration.

But the manner by which the raids and arrests were made indicated that the Arroyo administration is capable of running roughshod over civil liberties and the people’s rights. Although there was no suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, the arrests were made on the basis of old or trumped-up cases. New charges of sedition and rebellion were subsequently filed in court. But these did not pass the proper procedure of preliminary investigation to determine probable cause. It was a case of “arrest first, seek evidence later.”

The Arroyo administration has lifted the state of national emergency a week after declaring it. The business community and foreign investors, including the American Chamber of Commerce, were persistent in their call for its lifting saying that the proclamation is bad for business. Likewise, Proclamation No. 1017 generated protests from a broad sector of people, including those in government such as the Senate and its employees.

However, the Arroyo administration, through Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Raul Gonzales, announced that the guidelines for media coverage will still be enforced and that they will continue monitoring the media. It is preparing charges of inciting to sedition against Tribune publisher Niñez Cacho-Olivares and columnists Ike Señeres and Herman Tiu-Laurel.

Also, it had already made a mockery of the justice system by its policy of “arrest first, seek evidence later”. It is expected that the government will still use this illegal method as Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita admitted that the “crackdown” on government opponents and critics will continue even after the lifting of Proclamation No. 1017.

It has its calibrated pre-emptive response and Executive Order No. 464 in place. Its proposed amendments to the 1987 Constitution and its Anti-Terrorism Bill pending before Congress will further constrict civil liberties and people’s rights. Its recipe for a dictatorship is ready and the mechanisms are being put in place.

The only obstacle to the Arroyo administration’s plans of imposing its will is the people’s dissent. Proclamation No. 1017 could have been harsher, been imposed longer, and it could have been a formal declaration of martial law had the Arroyo administration not fear the people’s reaction. The Arroyo administration was right to hesitate.

The initial reaction of the different groups holding a rally when Proclamation No. 1017 was announced was not to call off its activities but to assert the freedom of assembly by converging at Ayala.

The reaction of the party-list representatives being hunted down by government was not to go into hiding but to assert their rights.

The raid at The Daily Tribune and the warnings of the PNP did not deter media from doing its coverage. Media people gathered at Newsdesk Café on February 26 to render a collective voice against these attacks on press freedom.

Proclamation No. 1017 was not able to successfully generate a “chilling effect” as intended by the government. Rather it galvanized the people into action.

In this respect, People Power 1 or EDSA 1 was not a total failure. The militant reactions to Proclamation No. 1017 and the collective shouts of “Never Again to Martial Law” manifested the most valuable lesson and gain of People Power 1.

But all freedom-loving Filipinos must not stop even as Proclamation No. 1017 was lifted.

The declaration of the state of emergency shows what President Arroyo is capable of. Currently, its spin doctors are continuously raising the coup bogey and it warned that it may again declare a state of national emergency anytime.

To confront this continuing challenge to civil liberties and people’s rights, freedom-loving Filipinos must be able to collectively show its will and muster its capabilities to fight for democracy and effect genuine change. Bulatlat

© 2006 Bulatlat ■ Alipato Publications

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