Using the Leftist bogey to justify Proclamation 1017
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo 2006-02-28
THE most plausible explanation for the issuance of Proclamation 1017, which places the entire country in a state of national emergency, is that the government of Madame Gloria M. Arroyo panicked. Even former president Fidel V. Ramos, an important Arroyo political ally, lambasted Madame Arroyo for that overreaction and distanced himself from the repercussions of the ill-conceived proclamation.
“Marcosian” was how Ramos described Proclamation 1017, a term that was coined during the Ferdinand Marcos regime to underscore a dictatorial act. But then, Ramos is one man who knows history and can foresee the long-term and far-reaching repercussions of monumental blunders. In contrast, Madame Arroyo has time and again demonstrated a very shallow grasp of history and understanding of the events that shape it. Where Ramos would consider the historical impact of an act, Arroyo has displayed a tendency to succumb to the demands of pressing difficult situations, even if the measure will exact a heavy toll in the long run.

Arroyo’s overspending and misuse of public funds during the 2004 election campaign delivered some benefits to her political cause but at the cost of exacerbating a fiscal crisis. Arroyo joined the Coalition of the Willing in the Iraq War to accommodate the US only to suffer a major falling out with the Bush administration when she had to withdraw from that commitment owing to the pressure here to save hostage Angelo de la Cruz. To induce foreign investment, Arroyo opened the country to foreign mining companies and the ill effects mining has on the environment as well as the hazards mining poses to public health.

The issuance of Proclamation 1017 last Feb. 24 was an overreaction that appeared to address a perceived immediate pressing need (to survive) but failed to consider the costly long-term repercussions. Proclamation 1017 was like prescribing brain surgery for a simple case of migraine headache; the chosen remedy for a small problem poses a great danger to life.

Having brought the iron-fisted genie out of the bottle, Madame Arroyo may have only succeeded in intensifying the resistance to her regime -- thereby prodding her enemies to consider more dangerous and vicious methods. With this overkill, the next military group who will plan something will likely be tempted to employ quick-strike, savage and ruthless removal tactics. Proclamation 1017 did not demoralize the resistance to the Arroyo government but merely upped the ante.

No basis, no justification

The most basic flaw of Proclamation 1017 is that there is no justification for it. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff, General Generoso Senga, himself confirmed that there was no coup plot but a mere plan for officers and soldiers to join civilians in the Feb. 24 EDSA rally and there to announce their withdrawal of support from their commander-in-chief, Madame Arroyo.

Fidel Ramos was so exasperated over Proclamation 1017 that he compared Madame Arroyo’s lack of grace under fire to former president Cory Aquino’s bravery when her administration underwent two violent coup attempts in 1987 (in which her son was wounded) and 1989 (which almost toppled her government). When Cory Aquino faced a clear and present danger, she did not resort to similar measures and never pressed the panic button.

Looking and smelling every bit like Marcos’s Proclamation 1081, which in 1972 placed the entire country under martial law, Arroyo’s Proclamation 1017 cannot even cite a serious crime against national security to justify it. No planes flew over the Palace to strafe or bomb it. No tanks rolled out of the camps to assault the executive residence. The plot was nipped in the bud as early as 5:00 am of Friday when the alleged leader, Brigadier General Danilo Lim, was placed in the custody of the AFP chief of staff. So what was the need for Proclamation 1017, which was proclaimed around noon --a good seven hours after General Lim was isolated and neutralized.

Then there is the aspect of a national state of emergency when the whole incident was concentrated only in two cities in Metro Manila where the Aguinaldo, Crame and Bonifacio military camps are located. There has been no reported troop movements or threats in the provinces that can justify placing the entire country under a state of emergency.

Reinforcements from the AFP Northern Luzon Command arrived in Metro Manila without incident. That convoy would have been attacked or pinned down somewhere between Tarlac province and Metro Manila if there was a significant armed force determined to assault and remove Arroyo.

Search for the usual suspects

Driven to extreme measures by their greatest fears, the administration is now pressed to present justification for Proclamation 1017. Finally realizing perhaps that they lacked what is called in police jargon as probable cause -- the administration appears to be manufacturing one. The Left is there to fit the bill. They now become the usual suspects.

Thus, we keep hearing this recently concocted refrain of a supposed conspiracy between the Right (AFP adventurists) and the Left (the Communist Party of the Philippines, CPP, and its New People's Army, NPA). Even the political officers of embassies who I’ve talked with find this assertion hard to believe. It is like saying that the Israelis and Iranians have agreed to an alliance.

The only time this Right-and-Left tactical alliance ever happened was when I was still chairman of the Council on Philippine Affairs -- during the time when we forged a broad coalition to remove Joseph Estrada from Malacañang for crimes that are now being tried in the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court. But that alliance was only with the above ground Left and not the CPP-NPA, which is at war with the AFP. It is easy to forge a mutually convenient and beneficial alliance when there is only a difference in ideological orientation. The US and China proved that. But it is not quite the same with warring factions who shoot at each other and shoot to kill.

Sans a shooting threat to justify Proclamation 1017, the Left becomes the next best thing. Majority of Filipinos still fear the CPP-NPA, which is why the Left never really got to home base here despite the deplorable socioeconomic conditions of the country. This fear of the left was also effectively utilized by Marcos to justify the imposition of martial law.

The fact that the CPP-NPA operates nationwide also conveniently provides the administration the justification for the Proclamation of a State of National Emergency.

But can the Arroyo regime recycle and resell this tale of the leftist bogeyman to a nation that was already duped in 1972 by a president who used it as a cover for assuming totalitarian powers?

You may email William M. Esposo at

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