'Arroyo's Crimes Against the People Persist'

A protester holds a banner during a rally in front of the Supreme Court in Manila earlier this week, opposing President Arroyo's declaration of a state of emergency to deal with an alleged coup attempt. (Photo: Joel Nito / AFP-Getty Images)

On March 3, President Gloria Macapagel Arroyo lifted the state of emergency in the Philippines that she had declared a week earlier. Arroyo claimed she had successfully prevented a coup, yet no details of this coup attempt have been made public. The week was marked by non-stop protests from a wide spectrum of the population, including the urban poor, workers and students.

Although these protests did not escalate, they were accompanied by a string of statements of opposition and protest, including by the Council of the University of the Philippines, church figures, almost every human-rights group and lawyers' association, as well as journalist associations and publishers. Sections of the business class were also clearly opposed to the proclamation — the day after the state of emergency was declared the mayor of Makati, the main business district, refused to obey an instruction to withdraw permits for a protest rally.

The string of protests followed on from the significant statement of opposition by the Philippines Senate on Feb. 28. The Senate motion condemned the actions of the government after the proclamation, including the arrest of congress members from the left party Bayan Muna, trade union leader Crispin Beltran and some military officers; threats against television networks; the occupation of a newspaper; and a curfew imposed on the press corps covering the presidential palace.

The Senate motion stated: "These acts carried out by the government pursuant to Proclamation 1017 on its face contravene the fundamental guarantees of the Constitution, particularly the basic civil liberties enshrined therein and deserve outright condemnation." The withdrawal of the state of emergency also follows continuing signs of discontent inside the armed forces, including a public protest march by members of the marine corps when their superior officer was relieved of his duties by presidential order.

In the immediate aftermath of the proclamation, orders were issued for the arrest of more than 50 people, including several leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines (C.P.P.). Among these were Joma Sison and Juliet Sison, who live in the Netherlands, and Gregorio Rosales, a high profile spokesperson for the C.P.P. based in the underground. Almost all of the members of congress representing Bayan Muna and associated parties — considered to be in political solidarity with the C.P.P. — were also on the list.

Arroyo's proclamation specifically accused the C.P.P. of collaborating with far-right elements of the army to prepare a coup. However, no evidence of any kind was presented. When Beltran was arrested, he was detained under a 1985 warrant issued during the Marcos dictatorship. The Bayan Muna and associated congresspersons found sanctuary in the Congress buildings during the week, which the Arroyo administration was refused access to.

No statement was made about the arrest orders when the state of emergency was lifted. Beltran and a Bayan Muna congress member who was also arrested were still in detention on March 4. According to the Philippines Inquirer, police laid further charges just hours after the state of emergency was lifted. Charges of sedition were laid against the editor-in-chief of the Daily Tribune, whose paper had been occupied by police for several days following the presidential decree. Two Tribune columnists have also been charged.

The Inquirer also quoted Dodong Nemenzo, the chairperson of the progressive coalition Laban Ng Masa, who said, "Widespread opposition to P.P. 1017 and the threats it posed to civil liberties was crucial to Ms. Arroyo's decision to lift it." But "she is not yet off the hook," Nemenzo warned, saying the crisis of legitimacy confronting the administration had actually worsened. Ronald Llamas, a leader of the left Akbayan party, was quoted as saying that while the state of emergency had been lifted, "Arroyo's crimes against the people persist."

"The crime of plunder, deception and lying continues. What the nation needed was not the lifting of the state of emergency but Ms Arroyo's exit," Llamas said.

Sonny Melencio from Filipino Workers Solidarity (B.M.P.) told Green Left Weekly from Manila that demonstrations would continue and that the emphasis would be on local mobilizations.

From Green Left Weekly, March 8, 2006.