Sunday, May 9, 2010

Philippines Facing Election Failure

The country faces a possible failure of elections on May 10 due to the inability of the Filipino elite to ensure a resolution to the political crisis through elections and the general incompetence of a corruption ridden, elite-controlled, weak state to conduct credible elections, above all one based on a fully automated voting system.

Only five days before the elections the major test run of the equipment has failed. In several precincts around the country, for example, votes cast for the opposition Liberal Party candidate Noynoy Aquino, were counted as votes for the candidate backed by the government party Lakas Kampi CMD’s (Christian Muslim Democrats), Gilbert Teodoro.

In one important aspect, i.e. the public trust in the electoral commission to conduct credible elections, the elections have already failed. People are extremely distrustful of the electoral commission and its credibility is virtually in tatters. The commission is suspected of being manipulated by the president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (known as GMA in the Philippines) to serve her personal political interests and several commissioners are known to be in the pay of GMA.

The prospect of a failure of elections has unnerved the elite, including the elite opposition. Various elite factions have come up with a chaotic plethora of alternatives to save the system, ranging from the postponement of elections, to a full manual count of the votes.

Arroyo, one of the most unpopular presidents in Philippine history, has faced several impeachment attempts, the wrath of a mass movement that has persistently called for her ouster and several military mutinies by junior officer opposed to her government. She has survived this all, partly due to her ability to buy-off a majority in congress through her plunder of presidential resources, while the sullen anger of the masses against the government has grown. If she no longer controls government, she will face a number of corruption and plunder charges that will see her convicted and jailed, as was the case with the former president Estrada. Therefore there’s a very strong possibility that she will manipulate the election results to hold onto power indefinitely. This could include changing the constitution to install her as a Prime Minister, thereby extending her control of government and protecting the interests of the Arroyo political dynasty.

The failure of the May 10 elections could lead to the explosion of another political crisis. While Noynoy Aquino leading the ‘yellow forces’ has indicated his support for ‘peoples power’, there is also a question mark about the capacity of Noynoy Aquino and the Liberal Party to be able to mobilize peoples power. While Noynoy has substantial middle class support, Estrada who is the runner-up in the polls, continues to command significant support amongst the urban poor. Is there a possibility of a Noynoy-Estrada alliance? The political situation is chaotic and unpredictable. Anything seems to be a possibility at this stage.

Meanwhile election related violence continues with killings reported in various localities around the country. Many of the culprits of the Maguindanao massacre – the worst case of recent election related violence in the country in which 57 people including 32 journalists were massacred – were initially acquitted by the Justice Secretary of the Arroyo government, while one of the murderers continues to vacation in ‘jail’.

Mutinous groupings continue to exist in the military, several of them also supporting various factions of the elite. A right-wing option is also a real danger: a right-wing ‘Generals coup’, orchestrated by the ruthlessly Machiavellian Secretary of National Defense Norberto Gonzales.

Ultimately it’s the deep divisions amongst the elite that drive the political crisis. The left and the mass movement are still on the sidelines, monitoring the developments, but in reactive mode. If an election failure results in triggering the masses into action, this could break open the situation for the left. A major challenge for the left continues to be its ability to force open the divisions amongst the elite. Key to this is mobilising the masses for an anti-elite resolution to the crisis i.e. sustained, nationwide, mass protests drawing the urban poor, laboring masses and the middle-classes onto the streets. This needs to be based on calls that expose the true nature of the problem – the system of elite rule – and for a transitional government based on an alliance of the most consistent anti-Arroyo forces, which has as its main responsibility the clean up of the electoral and political system through fundamental reforms, before conducting credible elections.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Military Rebels in the Philippine Elections

The Philippine Left and the 2010 Elections (Comment piece No. 4)

Based on an interview with well-known Marxist Francisco Nemenzo.

An important political development in recent years as a result of the widespread opposition to the government of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, is the radicalisation of junior officers and soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which has drawn a new generation into progressive politics. Several military rebel groups have recently emerged. These include the Magdalo, led by Lt. Col. Antonio Trillanes, currently imprisoned by the Arroyo government and Para sa Bayan, whose key leaders are also in jail. Trillanes contested the 2007 senate elections while imprisoned, with little or no resources or publicity, and still managed to garner around 11 million votes to win a senate seat (which is the official count, so the actual vote is very likely to be higher than this). General Daniel Lim, who was recently acknowledged as the leader of the various military rebel groupings including the Magdalo and Para sa Bayan, is also running for a senate position in the May 10 elections this year, albeit from behind bars. Colonel Ariel Querebin, currently imprisoned by the Arroyo government, is also running for a senate position. Lt. SG. James Layug, recently released Magdalo leader, is running for a congress seat in Taguig (Second District).

Francisco Nemenzo, well-known Marxist and the former President of the University of the Philippines, is active in the campaign to elect Danny Lim and is featured in television advertisements in support of Lim. In a recent letter to staff and students of the University of the Philippines, entitled ‘How I will vote’, Nemenzo explains his support for Danny Lim: “Of almost 90 contestants for 12 senatorial seats, General Danilo Lim stands out. He is not the soldier we love to hate. He exemplifies a thinking military officer who sees his job as defending the Filipino people, not protecting their oppressors. He is painfully aware of what is wrong with the military and police, but he is not one who merely growls without doing something about it. In February 2006 he made the bold decision to withdraw support from Gloria Maca¬pagal Arroyo, outraged by the revelation in the Garci tapes that soldiers were used to cheat in the 2004 elections. When Arroyo’s minions in the House of Representatives aborted the impeachment process, he realized that defiance was a patriotic act. He reminded himself that he swore allegiance to the republic, not to the incumbent President.”

“Danilo Lim is one of the few respected generals in the armed forces. His military education in West Point heightened his sense of nationalism instead of turning him into a little brown American. He earned exemplary combat record as an officer of the Scout Rangers. He was teaching mathematics in the Philippine Military Academy when he helped organize the Young Officers Union. He is a man of impeccable integrity and was never involved in human rights violation. Danny Lim would have been a strong contender for AFP chief-of-staff had he sold his soul to GMA. When it came to a crunch, he heeded the people’s clamor for the ouster of his commander-in-chief.”

“Now that Danny Lim is pursuing his advocacy for system change in the electoral arena, I shall vote for him and the three other senatorial candidates who stood for the ouster of the illegitimate president in 2006. If elected, they will symbolize our continuing struggle for a just, democratic, modernized and independent nation.”

The military rebels, like the left, have been unable to put up a unified ticket. According to Nemenzo “They [the military rebels] had different origins. There seems to be a difference between the Philippine Military Academy 1990 batch and the batches after 1995. They also had different field experiences: the Scout Rangers, the Marines, the SWAG, the Air Force the regular navy, etc.”

Nemenzo’s assessment is that the military rebels were “never united organizationally” but unlike the left which “was once united but split, distinct groups [amongst the military rebels] are easier to unify than former comrades.”

Nemenzo is also supporting Col. Ariel Querebin, Risa Hontiveros (Akbayan leader running on the senate ticket of the Liberal Party presidential candidate Noynoy Aquino) and JV Bautista (Sanlakas and Partido Lakas ng Masa, running on the senate ticket of the former president Erap Estrada)

In his letter Nemenzo also explains his position on the electoral system: “I do not consider elections as the essence of democracy; in most instances they serve as a fa├žade for oligarchy. I cannot even consider elections in the Philippines a “simula ng pagbabago”. Change will not come as a result of the coming elections, regardless of who wins. The colossal prob¬lems we face today are rooted the system of elite rule. For as long as this system prevails, any change will be superficial and its benefits will not trickle down to the masses.”