The Philippines

Return of the Galunggong

Fish Manila
The rich man's fish on display in Manila (Photo: AFP).

The price of galunggong (mackerel scad), the “poor man’s fish,” has long been used by Filipino political candidates as a barometer of the times. In 1986, when housewife Corazon Aquino challenged Ferdinand Marcos for the presidency, she used the high price of galunggong to symbolize economic hardship under the dictator.

Fast forward to 2002. The presidential elections are still two years away, but the galunggong has made a comeback, with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo saying that under her leadership, the fish is being sold for less than at the time of her predecessor, the ousted and jailed Joseph Estrada. Arroyo’s forays into the fish market—where she brandishes signs that sell galunggong for 60 pesos a kilo (down from the previous 80 pesos, or US$1.56)—have been used as fodder by her critics, who have accused her of focusing too early on her political ambitions rather than good governance.

Her sudden decision to get tough on rising criminality also has had tongues wagging. “What surprised and shocked many of the president’s listeners was the announcement that her number-one concern henceforth will no longer be the economy but the crafting of a strong state,” wrote Benito Lim of Today (independent, Manila, June 30), reacting to Arroyo’s vow to “break the back of terrorism and criminality” during her State of the Nation address on July 22.

An official within Arroyo’s camp admitted to WPR that  Arroyo’s public and hands-on stance against criminality—people arrested for petty crimes have been paraded before the media—is meant to shore up her sagging image. “The effects of poverty alleviation take a long time to gestate. You want something that’s visible to the electorate,” the official said.

Arroyo has seen her ratings slip because of recent political flaps, among them the forced resignation of Foreign Secretary Teofisto Guingona, who had opposed joint Filipino-American military exercises on Basilan Island, in the southern Philippines. Senator Blas Ople, an Estrada supporter and a former labor secretary under the Marcos regime, replaced Guingona. Some say Arroyo’s appointments of Ople and other Estrada allies were meant to control damage in the Senate, where her allies briefly lost their majority.

“No other chief of state has made such an unqualified statement of support to [George W.] Bush as Arroyo. And no other has subordinated foreign policy to the U.S.,” Walden Bello, chair of the Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party, told Cyberdyaryo (online, Manila, July 30). Militants have called for Arroyo’s resignation, but she is not worried.

The influential Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines says it will maintain its “critical solidarity”with Arroyo.“I do not see the church supporting any artificially created people power trying to raise the banner of a contrived...national crisis,” Archbishop Orlando Quevedo said in a statement quoted in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (independent, Manila, July 14).

Still, Arroyo is not taking any chances. Despite criticisms that her “war doctrine is a damning admission of her incompetence,” as Malaya said in an editorial (opposition, Manila, July 23), she has not stopped her daily media presentations of crime suspects.