From the May 2003 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 50, No. 5)

The Philippines

Deception and Constitutional Crisis

Walden Bello, CyberDyaryo (online publication), Manila, The Philippines, March 3, 2003

The official deception that has accompanied the proposed deployment of U.S. troops in Sulu is appalling. There may often be problems with its editorial policy, but when it comes to reporting the facts, The New York Times is much more credible than Malacanang [the Philippine presidential palace], the Department of Defense of the Philippines, or the Pentagon. There is no choice when it comes to the question of whom to believe. There are many worrying implications of this recent decision to field Green Berets directly in combat.

First, the Philippines is now more explicitly a combatant in the U.S. war against terror, making our country fair game for retaliatory attack.

Second, Philippine sovereignty has been seriously compromised, with the administration’s willingness to override the constitution by allowing U.S. troops to engage in combat in what should be strictly an internal police matter.

Third, the U.S. and the Philippine military in the person of Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes have connived behind the backs of our civilian authorities. Like the military’s invasion of Moro Islamic Liberation Front camps in Pikit, the deployment of U.S. forces in combat is a surprise that has been sprung on the civilian members of the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration, including possibly the president herself. With a weak and unpopular president who is unwilling to challenge it, the military has taken advantage of the situation to expand its power within the state. Intent on pushing a direct role against those it considers terrorists, the United States has abetted this institutional aggression.

The United States is precipitating a local constitutional crisis in its pursuit of global hegemony, which many throughout the world now see as the real aim of its interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Philippines. Civilian authority is now at its most fragile in the last decade.

We have been dragged willy-nilly into a conflict not of our own making, and one that does not serve our national interest. Instead of focusing our energies on the central task of economic and social development, the president took us last year into a global conflict that was in fact contradictory to our national interest. Now the military has taken us deeper into this conflict, this time with little regard and respect for executive power.

The president’s recent statement giving the military 90 days to end the Abu Sayyaf problem is a smoke screen for a really worrisome erosion of presidential authority and credibility brought about by her dismal performance, brazen American manipulation, and the AFP’s [Armed Forces of the Philippines] aggressive effort to expand its institutional power.

It is both in her interest and that of constitutional democracy that she dismiss Defense Secretary Reyes, who has played a central role in both the AFP’s attack in Pikit and the planned U.S. troop deployment in Sulu. This will go some way toward repairing the damage to the principle of civilian supremacy. It must be noted, however, that President Arroyo herself has had a significant role in endangering our constitutional processes. By toying with our constitution by inviting U.S. troops, she herself has contributed to the erosion of constitutional processes.

The massive antiwar rally at the Luneta on Feb. 28 showed that, from the left to the right, most of Philippine society is now ranged against this slide to war in our country, just as most of the world is united in the war that the United States is planning against Iraq. There is still time to arrest this process, but it will mean strong civil-society intervention in the affairs of state.

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