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Tension and Arrests in Manila

Prepared by: Michael Moran
February 27, 2006

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A group of senior Filipino military commanders, one of them a hero of the 1986 "People Power" revolution which ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos, now faces charges of plotting to overthrow the government of President Glorida Macapagal Arroyo (al-Jazeera).

The incident marred planned festive celebrations of the twentieth anniversary over the weekend. An analysis in the Hong Kong-based Asia Times says the standoff between Arroyo and the Army is not over yet.

Citing coup rumors, Arroyo last week surrounded her presidential palace with armored cars and loyal troops as police beat protesters with truncheons and used water cannons to disperse the 5,000-strong crowd (BBC).

Among those sought in the alleged coup plot is Gregorio Honasan, a former senator and leader of the 1986 revolution that swept away Marcos and his fourteen years of martial law. While the People Power revolution inspired dissidents in Asia and Eastern Europe, in the Philippines, the social upheaval did not lead to stability. Every president since Marcos—including Corazon Aquino, the champion of the 1986 rising—has faced threats of social unrest and military meddling. Arroyo herself came to power in 2001 after huge crowds took to the streets (TIME) to oust the man she served as vice president, Joseph Estrada. Last year, Arroyo barely missed being impeached over vote-rigging charges.

As the Washington Post notes, since independence from the United States in 1948, the country's political system has proven itself unable to sustain either economic or political programs, and remains captive to a handful of families.

The island nation's economy has failed to keep pace with the brisk growth of its East Asian neighbors. After the government ejected U.S. military bases in the early 1990s, its ties with the United States, detailed in a new Congressional Research Service report, faltered and cooled. Ties warmed again after 9/11, when Manila invited U.S. troops to help in counterterrorism. A major exercise is underway this week in the restive southern island of Mindanao (San Jose Mercury News). Still, poverty remains endemic, and as the Asian Development Bank reported last autumn, political uncertainty, high oil prices, and undisciplined government spending have scared off foreign investment.

Amid all this, social unrest has increased. For years, the Philippines has held the dubious distinction of leading the world in the number of journalists killed each year (Overseas Press Club). The Philippine Committee for Investigative Journalism says many Filipinos have given up on the idealism of the 1986 revolution. "Two decades later, the country finds itself mired in political crisis, seemingly in a state of democratic decay," the center says in this report.

The BBC offers a timeline of Philippine history, while MSNBC.com hosts a slide show of recent unrest in the country. The National Security Archive at GWU stores an archive of declassified documents from the Marcos years. Arroyo's official statements can be read on the government's website.

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