KASAMA Vol. 16 No. 4 / October-November-December 2002 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network
ON THE PHILIPPINES
AN ELECTRONIC NEWSLETTER
(FOCUSING MAINLY ON PHILIPPINE NEWS AND ISSUES)
FOCUS ON THE GLOBAL SOUTH
ISSUE # 30 DECEMBER 21, 2002
IMMEDIATELY AFTER SEPTEMBER 11, PRESIDENT GLORIA MACAPAGAL-ARROYO WAS ONE OF THE FIRST WORLD LEADERS TO COME OUT IN FULL SUPPORT OF THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION AND HIS WAR AGAINST TERRORISM, EVEN OFFERING PHILIPPINE TROOPS FOR COMBAT IN AFGHANISTAN. AFTER ALL THESE EFFORTS BY THE ARROYO ADMINISTRATION THOUGH, WASHINGTON DOES NOT SEEM TO BE INTENT ON RETURNING THE FAVOR.
With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies?
By Mary Louise Malig
IMMEDIATELY after September 11, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was one of the first world leaders to come out in full support of the Bush administration and his War Against Terrorism, even offering Philippine troops for combat in Afghanistan.
This of course placed her on the official buddy list of Washington alongside British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Taking advantage of Arroyo's support, President George Bush Jr. sent a team of US advisers to the southern part of the Philippines to help in the Philippine government's losing battle against the Abu Sayaff: a group founded in the early 1990šs by young Islamists outside of the two major Muslim separatist groups in the country, but have resorted to kidnappings for ransom, causing people to doubt their Islamic rhetoric. This closeness with the US also warded off any would be plotters of the opposition, which prior to September 11 were taking advantage of the instability of the Arroyo government and the general dissatisfaction with her government confirmed in the national polls.
But the icing on the cake would come in the form of aid packages from Washington. Confirmed with President Arroyo triumphantly announcing that "It's $4.6 billion and counting"; covering PL-480 food aid, agricultural export guarantees, poverty alleviation support, investment guarantees, a debt-for-nature swap and $2.6 billion in promised investments from US corporations.
Sufficiently convinced of their friendship, President Arroyo then gave her best buddy the country's sovereignty by agreeing to the Philippines being the second front of the war.
THE SECOND FRONT AND OTHER FAVORS
Frustrated with its war in Afghanistan with Osama Bin Laden managing to slip through, the Bush Administration launched into the second front of the war, where it believed it would claim an easier and clearer victory. However entering and intervening in the Philippine government's war against the Abu Sayaff breached the Philippine constitution, so American troops came in under the guise of training exercises dubbed Balikatan or shoulder to shoulder.
Taking people by surprise, the government quickly moved to quell any sort of dissent by using Washington's line of you're either with us or against us. In this case, you were either with the government or with the Abu Sayaff. After much hoopla though, at the end of the exercises, the US had yet once again failed in its attempt to achieve a clear cut victory against terrorism. True, some of their major leaders had been allegedly killed, the Abu Sayaff were still at large and only one hostage was rescued with the other two being killed in an encounter between the Abu Sayaff and the military.
Despite this dismal attempt at making the Philippines a safer place, President Arroyo announced that there would be even more training exercises in other parts of the Philippines. And as if to assure Washington that they were indeed welcome, the Arroyo administration went behind the country's back and inked the controversial Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA).
The Agreement, in a nutshell, would allow the US to use military facilities in the Philippines any time they want. It would allow the US to use the country as a supply center for military operations, including the current anti-terror military campaign, but with qualifications that it would supposedly only be for supplies such as ammunition, food, water, fuel and nothing under major armaments.
I SCRATCH YOUR BACK!
After all these efforts by the Arroyo administration though, Washington does not seem to be intent on returning the favor.
First, the much flaunted aid packages had been vetoed. A few months after the Balikatan exercises were completed, Bush vetoed in part the originally promised military assistance approved by the US Congress by cutting out 30 million dollars. Covering up for an erring friend, President Arroyo was quick to justify this as a problem of the US with "budget deficit problems".
Second was the discovery that the military aid came with more strings than expected. Suddenly, for example, it was announced that more funding would come in trickles if the MLSA was not immediately signed.
The latest blow though would come in the form of exclusion. The US excluded the Philippines from its new 7.9 billion dollar anti-poverty aid program for developing countries, stating that the country did not meet the required poverty threshold of $1,435 per capita. In other words, Washington's best buddy was not destitute enough to be a recipient of its aid.
As things look, Washington seems to have gotten everything it needed for the moment from the country and it is now leaving the Arroyo administration high and dry.
Arroyo though can hardly expect any sympathy from her constituents as the country has yet to see the economic recovery the President and her economists had predicted but instead has had to suffer a seemingly endless crisis with the unemployment rate rising to an alarming 10.2% from 9.8% the previous year. That literally translates to more than three million Filipinos out in the streets with no work.
And in the latest Social Weather Survey poll, results show gross dissatisfaction with her at 38%, just a notch higher than her lowest level rating.
The usual issues covered by the survey ranged from corruption, the plunder case of Estrada all the way to mass deportation of Filipinos from Sabah. Ironically, the one stark issue that swung the dissatisfaction factor was the President's score card with terrorism, both locally and globally.
The slew of local bombings in the recent months have left people shaken and extremely dissatisfied with the President, but more importantly, the anxiety with regard to terrorism stems from the way the Arroyo administration has been perceived as supporting the US war against Iraq. Despite Arroyo's anti-terrorist and strong state rhetoric, an overwhelming 70% of Filipinos think that the Philippines should in fact be neutral in the eventuality of a war between the US and Iraq and a minimal 5% agree that the country should support the US in a unilateral war.
Sentiments evidently reflect the peoplešs belief that the President does not have the interest of her fellow countrymen. In fact they doubt if she would be able to take care of them both here and abroad. A constant question raised in debates on the looming US-Iraq war has in fact been whether the current government can ensure the safety of the country's millions of overseas workers, most of which reside in the Middle East.
Apparently, the "you're either with us or against us" line of the President has fallen on deaf but wiser ears. It's time she sees she's the only one on her side! - oh yes, and National Security Adviser Roilo Golez.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: MARY LOUISE MALIG is a
sociologist and research associate of Focus on the Global
South, and moderates Focus' e-zine FOCUS ON THE
PHILIPPINES. She is currently working with Dr. Walden
Bello on a book about the political economy of the
Philippines, dealing with issues like the environment and
FOCUS ON THE PHILIPPINES http://www.focusweb.org