September 20, 2007

A familiar scene

Yearly, on September 21, the day martial law was declared, the whole nation renews its collective call for vigilance: Never Again! For most, it means, never again to fascist dictatorship, to subordination of civilian to military rule, to killings and abductions and a host of human rights violations. Indeed, martial law was all that.

But martial law was more than that. It was also about unprecedented graft and corruption, bureaucrat capitalism of the highest order (subsequently placed in the statute books as plunder) and the surrender of national and economic sovereignty to foreign interests resulting in mounting national debt, depressed wages, skyrocketing prices, non-existent or inaccesible social services and greater hardship and misery for the common tao. It was about gross violations of the Filipino people's economic, social, cultural rights and the right to national independence and self-determination perpetrated under the aegis of "constitutional authoritarianism".

In fact, martial law was the legal means utilized by then incumbent President, Ferdinand Marcos, to hold on to power for fourteen years (although martial law was formally lifted in 1981when Marcosian decrees were in place) since the 1935 Constitution barred him from vying for another term in office.

Those who lived through martial rule may now be watching the national scene with a distinct sense of deja vu. It would seem that the conditions for its resurrection from the political graveyard are all there and more. We see a worsening economic crisis for the majority of people despite glowing government statistics; heightened protest and vigilance of the people; restiveness among the military; increasing challenges not only from the Opposition but also close allies of the incumbent administration, in a situation where there is less room for accomodation of interests; a weakened and isolated ruling faction resorting to draconian measures versus all, including erstwhile allies, to preserve power and amass more wealth.

Contrary to government claims that "all's well" and the ship of state is "full steam ahead", the Arroyo regime is really going through very turbulent waters, rocked by scandals and bedevilled by exposes, even as previous outstanding issues like the "Hello Garci" controversy refuse to go away.

In fact, Mrs. Arroyo's triumphs nowadays seem to be all too fleeting. She had hardly the chance to bask in the glow of what her government claims to be astounding growth rates when a cheeky reporter asked her how come ordinary people didn’t seem to feel particularly prosperous. This episode landed prominently in the front pages of a major newspaper.

Then the arrest in the Netherlands of Prof. Jose Maria Sison, founder of the reestablished Communist Party of the Philippines, and the Arroyo regime's declared Public Enemy No. 1. Mrs. Arroyo, her National Security Adviser and generals could not help gloating about Mr. Sison's arrest even as they pretended her government had little to do with it. Eventually the national police, seeking credit, could not help crowing about their role in providing the Dutch police with the evidence with which to nail Prof. Sison. Then when they thought they had got him by the balls, he is surprisingly released by the Dutch panel of judges for, what else -- insufficient evidence.

To Malacanag's relief, former President Joseph "Erap" Estrada's conviction for plunder was unaccompanied by the much-feared and anticipated convulsive display of displeasure by pro-Erap loyalists despite earlier surveys showing spontaneous public sympathy towards the disgraced ex-president. But now with a vengeance, comes the unraveling of the $330M National Broadband Network deal with members of Mrs. Arroyo's official family, the Commission on Elections head (who is suspected to have a lot to do with her alleged fraudulent 2004 presidential win) and her husband no less being pinpointed as deep into the NBN scam.

In less than twenty-four hours of the Sandiganbayan verdict, the public has latched on to the demand that not only Erap should pay for committing the crime of plunder but also Mrs. Arroyo and her cabal of corrupt government officials, family members and business cronies. With the NBN deal coming unhinged due to damaging testimony from a most unlikely whistleblower, the son of her close ally, Speaker Jose the Venecia, GMA’s impending comeuppance has surprised even some of her political enemies. Indeed Mr. Joey de Venecia’s testimony has hit very close to home even as he swears by the innocence of “his President”.

According to a Bayan primer on the NBN controversy, "While Joey de Venecia did not categorically implicate Mrs. Arroyo in the NBN scam, there are several facts which cannot be denied. Mrs. Arroyo has known of the NBN deal for quite some time now, even citing her vision for the NBN in her 2006 State of the Nation Address. She authorized the signing of the contract in China even if it went against the guidelines she herself laid down for the Philippine government. She also made several sins of omission by not investigating the alleged theft of the contract and for not investigating the officials believed to be involved in the anomalies surrounding it. At first, Arroyo said she would allow her Cabinet officials to testify only at the Supreme Court to insulate the matter from politicians, esp Opposition senators. Recently, Arroyo has asked her cabinet officials to appear before a Senate inquiry to explain the NBN contract after getting so much flak again about lack of transparency, cover-up and defiance of the Court's ruling regarding the right of Congress to investigate 'in aid of legislation'."

What the public is witnessing is a single corruption scandal opening up a veritable can of worms. Comelec Chair Abalos' undeniable involvement leads back to the entire "Hello Garci" episode and charges of systematic, massive fraud attending the 2004 presidential and even the recent mid-term elections held under Mr. Abalos' watch. What's more, the First Gentleman's fingerprints on the NBN deal could lead directly to Mrs. Arroyo and could thus be very damaging.

All these developments underscore the fact that the Arroyo regime’s vaunted strength and stability are just not so and its myriad vulnerabilities are simply being shielded by the administration's resort to convoluted lies and half-truths, stonewalling, manipulation of the mass media and coercion, if not elimination, of vital witnesses.

So when we say "Never again!" We mean not only "Never again to fascist dictatorship, killings, massacres, torture and all these gross human rights violations." We should also mean "NEVER AGAIN to plunder, crony capitalism, kleptocracy, unbridled ambition, abuse of power and puppetry to foreign interests." ###


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