How Gloria M. Arroyo can trigger a Philippine civil war
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo 2006-03-09

REPRESENTATIVE Imee Marcos gave an ironic twist to our ongoing political drama when she called Madame Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo a “second-rate, trying-hard copycat” of her father. Actress Cherry Gil had delivered these unforgettable lines as a feisty character in that “Bituing Walang Ningning” film of the 1980s. Imee delivered sound bites that were not only familiar to every movie-going Filipino but also delivered that very nasty sting whose time has come.

Imee was of course reacting to Madame Arroyo’s issuance of Presidential Proclamation (PP) 1017 on Feb. 24, which placed the country in a state of national emergency. Many considered PP 1017 as nothing but euphemism for martial law, following the “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it must be a duck” principle.
I was actively involved in working for the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos, and I continue to feel outrage over the fact that the members of the Marcos family have neither acknowledged the damage Marcos had done to the country nor surrendered what is generally believed to be the bigger heap of Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth. But on this one, I have to agree with Imee Marcos 100 percent.

Take a look at how Gloria M. Arroyo had tried to recycle the Marcos script for PP 1081 (the declaration of martial law on Sept. 21, 1972) when she issued PP 1017:

1. Marcos’s PP 1081 and Gloria M. Arroyo’s PP 1017 imposed police-state tactics in curtailing freedoms under the Bill of Rights. Marcos was at least honest in that he admitted that PP 1081 was a declaration of martial law. Both tried to cloak their actions with “constitutionality” and used fabricated justification.

2. Both Marcos and Arroyo bannered their proclamations as urgent measures that were designed to save the country from what turned out to be fabricated threats -- and in both cases the Red bogey was used. In truth, they were both preventing a looming turnover of power. Marcos was due to step down after serving his two terms by 1973. Arroyo is being asked to relinquish the presidency that majority of Filipinos believe she had stolen.

3. Marcos planted bombs all over Metro Manila to condition the people that anarchy was developing and that the barbarians were at the gates. Similarly, bombs have been exploding lately, with no credible suspects being apprehended or pinpointed to account for the explosions. Last Thursday, Senator Rodolfo Biazon exposed an alleged government plot to send military men to Metro Manila with C-4 explosives, presumably to sow fear and mayhem.

4. Marcos recast the press to transform it from the freest in Asia into his very own massive propaganda machinery. The media were one of the prime targets of Arroyo’s PP 1017, shutting down one anti-administration publication (The Daily Tribune) and imposing "guidelines" on the rest of the media.

5. The promulgation of both PP 1081 and 1017 were immediately followed by warrant-less arrests of known political adversaries and critics.

6. PP 1081 was used to takeover or shut down the businesses of Marcos' political enemies. Both owned by the Lopez family: Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) was taken over while ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. was shut down in 1972. Upon the promulgation of PP 1017, troops were sent to media facilities and offices as well as public utilities, poised to takeover if and when ordered by Malacañang to do so.

7. Marcos was empowered by the 1935 Constitution that was in effect in 1972 to declare martial law, albeit under fabricated causes. Madame Arroyo’s PP 1017 has been questioned as unconstitutional under the provisions of the 1987 Constitution, which is in effect today.

Imee Marcos knew what she was saying when she called Madame Arroyo a “second-rate, trying-hard copycat” of her father. Unlike Marcos, Madame Arroyo did not have the luxury and comfort of solid support such as the following:

1. Marcos had total control and support of the military. Arroyo was reacting to a threat from the military.

2. Marcos had the support of the US when he declared PP 1081. The US asked Arroyo to immediately lift PP 1017, which she promptly did.

In previous columns, I’ve doubted the capability of Gloria M. Arroyo to impose martial law the way Marcos did and I’ve cited many of the reasons that were just enumerated. While Arroyo may have the same lust for power as Marcos, she does not enjoy the conditions that allowed Marcos to get away with the imposition of PP 1081. Madame Arroyo can only try to impose martial law but the odds are very much stacked against her that she can get away with it.

It is for this reason also that I wrote in my Feb. 25 column ("A Philippine civil war is now a real possibility" about the alarming prospects of having our political situation deteriorating into a civil war. Despite what we can say about Marcos, we can be thankful that his rule did not bring us to a civil war.

Had Marcos persisted in going to Paoay town in the northern province of Ilocos Norte rather than leave for a US sanctuary -- that would have resulted in civil war because Ilocos Norte would have given him a solid base where he could operate to retake power. The people of the Ilocos region revere Marcos. There are a big number of Ilocanos in the military who can be expected to remain loyal. But intelligent as he was, Marcos knew when he was beaten and did not force the issue. Instead of fleeing to Paoay, he agreed to go to Hawaii.

I’m afraid that Gloria M. Arroyo’s intransigence will force this nation into the very situation we have avoided when Marcos chose to leave the country. Madame Arroyo does not even have the loyal following and support base that Marcos had and yet she displays a dangerous persistence to hold on to power, refusing to allow the truth about the 2004 presidential election to be independently established and exposed. Marcos easily had 45 percent of the votes in the 1986 "snap" presidential election. Compared with that, over 65 percent of Filipinos want Arroyo ousted. Additionally, Marcos did not have the consistently and persistently negative ratings that Madame Arroyo records in public opinion surveys.

Yet, despite her very limited support base, Madame Arroyo claims support from a part of the entrenched elite, the traditional politicians and a segment of the military. Those three power bases can form one side of the conflict.

This of course assumes that those three will remain loyal to her if and when the situation deteriorates and becomes a shooting war. Representative Prospero Pichay, Manila Mayor Lito Atienza, Secretary Michael Defensor and businessman Donald Dee may all sound like The 300 Spartans at Thermopylae when professing their support for Madame Arroyo, but it remains to be seen if they will be willing to participate in a civil war for her. Talk is cheap. Life is too costly.

The other side of the conflict can easily form itself from among the opposition political forces, the over 40 million hungry and angry Filipinos, even those civil society organization members who may be driven by frustration to resort to violent means because of the failure of the system to repair itself. Last but not least, of course, is that segment of the military that opposes the Arroyo regime.

I reiterate what the late Jaime Cardinal Sin said, that civil war is the greatest scourge that can afflict a nation. All wars should be avoided and of all wars -- civil wars are known to be the most vicious, the after effects of which tend to linger and haunt a nation for generations.

The socioeconomic conditions we are in, the deep divisions in our society and institutions, and the geographic reality of being an archipelago portend a long and bloody conflict if we fail to resolve the situation in our country, if the leadership does not reform as the national situation now demands.

In the Pulse Asia survey last year about the Filipino’s coping mechanisms in facing the economic hardships, a combined 33 percent of adult Filipinos admitted to being ready to adopt illegal means (21 percent) in order to survive and to support an overthrow of the government (12 percent). This means that there are over 20 million desperate adult Filipinos who can now be easily induced to consider risking their lives to join an overthrow of the government and likely, the very system itself. Desperate situations provoke desperate measures.

This is where many tend to delude themselves that a civil war cannot take place here. Some say that Filipinos are either cowards or just would not want to take the difficult options. The notion is as stupid as assuming that what has not happened before will and cannot happen in the future. Lack of precedence does not guarantee non-occurrence.

Violent civil strife does not require a majority vote. It is triggered by having enough hotheads in a society who are provoked by certain conditions. Nothing can be more inclined towards violence than people who are hungry and angry. We have over 20 million of them.

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All Excited by Pope Francis

A great disservice to P-Noy

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