Saturday, May 1, 2010

Philippines - The power that rules the nation

One of the biggest challenges facing any new president and administration will be how to deal with the political culture of crime where guns and goons and oodles of ill-gotten money buys or buries opponents and bedazzles the electorate with false claims, promises and empty meaningless rhetoric. Political violence like the massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao has bedeviled the Republic since it’s founding. The culture of political crime and corruption pervades every political campaign with some notable exceptions to be admired and supported.

It is not an electoral contest fought for different political values, goals with stated policies and clear agendas. Few sign any detailed policy manifesto that they could be held accountable for by the public and the media.

In reality, with inspiring and noble exceptions among the non-senatorial marginalized candidates, high aspirations are replaced by a desire to win, divvy up the spoils, and consolidate power with their own family members, business interests and cronies. Self-interest and clan dominance is at the heart of almost all Philippine politics. The greatest prize of all is the presidency; there lies the greatest power, influence and prestige. There is no question political power is an addicting drug, once tasted the desire for more is insatiable.

History shows that at the heart of political power, where perhaps 200 vastly wealthy power hungry dynastic families and their billionaire cronies rule the lives of 90-million impoverished Filipinos, its military and police power. While thousands of brave young officers and men have given their lives fighting, they died not knowing that they were defending - the vested interests of a ruling elite, not the Filipino people, the poor, the hungry and the landless. They followed orders without asking why they need to fight and die.

Getting and keeping the military on side is essential for the continued rule of few wealthy family dynasties that make it to the top. The elite place their own relatives or friends in strategic positions in the police and military and win their loyalty by giving some of them a generous slice of the military budget for themselves.

In some unnamed administrations, a few really bad eggs might do the immoral and illegal bidding of the commander-in-chief and assassinate political rivals, dissidents, activists and journalists and be rewarded with political positions or plush civilian jobs when they retire before the president leaves office.

Recent history gives several examples to the king-making or breaking role of the military. They turned against President Estrada and he fell from power. Army officers rebelled against President Marcos and when the people supported the rebels, he fell from power. Some military officers have strategically positioned themselves with statements pledging loyalty to the constitution, and incidentally in-grating themselves to the incoming president-elect.

There are honorable and honest military and police officers who will not play the corruption game. Some in recent years rebelled against the government and the corrupt system. They were jailed and charged. Others were cleared and now run for political office.

Private armies and militias are mostly government-paid. None of the presidential candidates have any genuine commitment to dismantle them. They need them to subdue social unrest and the armed rebels.
These government-paid militias help keep down rebellion and keep the government in power. They are also used to massacre political rivals as we saw in Maguindanao.

The next president has the task of saving the millions of homeless, landless, suffering Filipinos from illiteracy, unemployment, sickness and hunger and must bring about a compassionate and just nation.
That means dismantling the armed militias and implementing the strict rule of law.

The new president will have to be a charismatic revolutionary, ready to transform society and go against his own privileged class, their members’ vested interests. Ready to challenge the corporate giants and the interests of foreign powers, take on the landlords, implement land reform and.... well, be a president for the 90 million people mired in hopelessness and there is no such person - we are not yet Bolivia. Editorial, The Manila Times

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