It is not surprising that de facto President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo hardly mentioned the “war on terror” in her annual State-of-the-Nation-Address (SONA). Not a word about how this small but favorite ally of great big white brother is faring in the “second front against terrorism”. Is it because there is nothing bright or rosy to report?
For after all, the recent Basilan ambush that resulted in the death of at least fourteen Marines reminds us all that (1) the Abu Sayyaf, which the Balikatan 02-1 "joint US-RP military exercises" was supposed to have wiped out five years ago, is still up and about; and (2) the much-touted "reduction of hostilities" in Mindanao brought about by a Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP)-Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) ceasefire agreement is a myth. In short, no amount of military offensives or "peace agreements" that do not address the roots of armed conflict can bring about genuine peace. In fact, they only perpetuate and aggravate the problems that bring about political dissent and social conflict.
Now comes news that US military aid for the Philippines in 2008 has been drastically cut partly because of unmitigated human rights violations, foremost of which are the hundreds of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. The President’s apologists and front men are at their wit’s end trying to deny the astounding news. Executive Secretary Ermita and temporary Defense Secretary Gonzalez are not quite in unison trying to explain such aid cut’s adverse effects. The US embassy spokesperson lamely explained that the 2008 budget has not even been passed so the report is both “premature” and “misleading”.
Did the ABS-CBN North American News Bureau just make it all up?
What we do know is that a strong lobby by US mainline Protestant churches and human rights institutions to get the US Congress to pay attention to the Arroyo regime’s abominable human rights record is making headway. Proof of this is a very recent US House Committee report that states that it is "highly concerned with reports of extrajudicial killings by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP)... (and) with the effect these killings may be having on the work of civil society organizations.”
Even if what exists, at the moment, is only a US State Department proposal to cut aid to the Philippine, no matter how big but especially if big, it already sends a clear political message to all and sundry that there is a growing debate in US policy circles about what attitude to take towards the lame duck Arroyo regime.
If the aid cut is big enough, it will undoubtedly have an impact on the capacity of the AFP and PNP to function as the repressive arm of government, even as US-sourced equipment such as helicopters and mortar have been shown to be defective and therefore unreliable and even a hazard to life and limb. Especially worrisome though for Mrs. Arroyo and her generals is how restive young military officers and foot soldiers will receive and interpret such news.
At the same time, the US government has long been criticized for ignoring a country’s human rights record when it comes to the sale and transfer of weaponry and the conduct of military training to the security forces of friendly governments so long as there are far more important considerations, e.g. gargantuan profits for the US military-industrial complex and the advancement of US strategic economic and geopolitical interests. So there must be more to this proposed cut than meets the eye. At the minimum, there are signs that even in the corridors of power, voices opposed to unqualified US support for the Arroyo regime are gaining headway.
Certainly Mrs. Arroyo is vulnerable because, apart from being dogged by almost universal condemnation of her inability to stem extrajudicial killings, she has chosen to hitch her political fortunes to Mr. Bush and to use the much-ballyhooed “war on terror” to justify her mailed fist policy against supposed “terrorists” and assorted “destabilizers”.
Mr. Bush himself is a lame duck president suffering from one of the lowest, if not the lowest, credibility ratings, with his policies in the Middle East and other global regions, unraveling. The US Congress is now in the hands of the Democratic Party, whose leaders are under tremendous public pressure to counter Bush on the Iraq war and other foreign and domestic policy issues.
The rivals of Mrs. Arroyo, especially with the 2010 presidential elections just around the corner, are keen about the slightest indication that the Superpower is on the look-out for a new Philippine Chief Executive. Activists and the more radical among the Opposition are correct in viewing these developments as positive considering that the US is the foremost pillar that is propping up the much reviled Arroyo regime.
Mrs. Arroyo’s version of the “war versus terror” is being continuously exposed as a fascist cover-up for her over-arching ambition to stay in power and is on the verge of collapse. Apparently this is one major reason for her need to put up an assertive, even pugnacious, pose during her SONA before the 14th Congress.
Consequently, Mrs. Arroyo’s declaration that she is very much in charge as the President of the Republic of the Philippines, and that she is as ”strong as she wants to be”, has ironically served as her self-indictment.
For if this was truly the case, why can’t she put a stop to the political killings that have put her government on the defensive? Is it just the lack of political will to clean up the military and police forces of “rogue” elements or is it because the killings are under her direction unmistakably as the Commander-in-Chief?###