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A U.S. ally in the "war on terror" cracks down on dissent
Martial law imposed in the Philippines

By Lee Sustar | March 3, 2006 | Page 2

ACCUSING HER opponents of plotting a military coup, Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared a state of emergency February 24. Arroyo quickly used martial-law powers to crack down on the opposition, especially on the left.

According to Arroyo, key military officers allied with "communists" tried to overthrow the government on the 20th anniversary of the "people power" demonstrations that toppled the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos--who had himself ruled under a state of emergency.

The plot reportedly centered on the Philippines Marine Corps and was backed by leading politicians. According to a Time magazine reporter who attended a meeting of coup plotters, a key player is Jose Cojuangco, brother of Corazon Aquino, who became president following the 1986 ouster of Marcos.

Aquino herself--along with other major politicians--went to the Marine barracks where a unit protested after the top Marine commander was removed for allegedly participating in the plot. Also reportedly involved was Gregory Honasan, a former military officer who has tried to mount right-wing coups several times since the fall of Marcos.

Arroyo--who is deeply unpopular following allegations of corruption and vote fraud--is trying to hold on to office by installing her key allies in top military and police posts, and using martial law to bolster their powers. Rival politicians--all, like Arroyo, members of the wealthy oligarchy that dominates Filipino politics--want to oust her by using the popular cover of a "people power" protest.

Arroyo herself pulled off a similar maneuver in 2001, when, as vice president, she put herself at the head of protests against President Jose Estrada and got her allies in the Philippines Supreme Court to declare the post of presidency to be vacant. Estrada's allies--including Honasan--failed to reinstall him in a counter-protest of their own a few months later.

While Estrada was impeached for corruption, his real crime from the point of view of Arroyo and the oligarchy was his populist appeal to the 40 percent of the population that lives under the official poverty line.

Arroyo won election in 2004, but her government was plunged into crisis the following year when a tape recording surfaced in which she apparently discussed rigging the vote with a top election official. Half her cabinet resigned shortly thereafter, as Arroyo's rivals in the oligarchy began maneuvering to bring about her downfall by taking advantage of popular disenchantment with her government.

In response, Arroyo has tried to consolidate power through the military--via a close alliance with the U.S. in the "war on terror." Since September 11, 2001, her administration has brought in U.S. troops to train--and, witnesses say, fight alongside--Filipino troops in their war against the Islamist group Abu Sayyaf, on the island of Mindanao.

These ties to the U.S.--which included exercises with 5,000 U.S. Marines in February--are deeply controversial in the Philippines, which became a U.S. colony following the U.S. conquest of the island in the Spanish-American War of 1898. Formal independence for the Philippines wasn't achieved until 1946. After that, the U.S. maintained a huge military presence in the islands until the fall of Marcos and a nationalist movement forced them to withdraw.

But under Arroyo, the U.S. military has made a major comeback in the Philippines, as Herbert Docena recently documented on the Asia Times Web site. Arroyo has used the supposed threat to "terrorism" to ramp up repression--against Muslims in Mindanao, but also including employer and police violence against strikers and systematic political assassinations.

Increasingly, government officials have revived the anticommunist rhetoric of the Marcos era. Some 26 activists were arrested and beaten at a protest called against the state of emergency. Among them was Docena, a researcher with Focus on the Global South.

"Even before the state of emergency was declared, 33 activists have been killed by suspected military agents or paramilitary groups," Docena wrote in an e-mail message to supporters. "Police have routinely violently broken up street protests. But with the proclamation [of the state of emergency], our arrests could just be the beginning of even more heightened repression, more severe curtailment of civil liberties, and more flagrant violation of human rights in the country."

Docena added that "opposition to Arroyo's regime is divided between those who want to salvage this system and those who want to once and for all give real meaning to 'people power.' We look forward to your support and solidarity for those of us who are on this side--even as we continue to extend solidarity to people resisting around the world."

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