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Arroyo Keeps Lid on Media
[Opinion] Filipinos live in the shadow of a police state
Alex Argote (alexphil)     Print Article 
Published 2006-03-08 11:47 (KST)   
As the smoke of the latest round of power struggle settles, an obnoxious new order takes form in the ever-chaotic arena that is Philippine society and politics.

In spite of the lifting of the presidential proclamation 1017 (national emergency) and general order (GO) 5, a state of fear exists in the minds of Filipinos, who dare not speak out or march in the streets against abuse and the excesses of those in power, lest the boot of the government stamp down on them.

The full force and efforts of the Arroyo administration is now focused solely on maintaining the status quo and throwing all the main dissenters off-balance while consolidating its power base firmly on political ground. The static and divisive debate on the legality of Arroyo's presidency that was ignited with the alleged 2004 election cheating scandal, and other anomalies concerning her administration greatly undermined the government.

With most Filipinos frustrated over bureaucratic corruption and the endless controversies that maligned government agencies and institutions, it seemed to be just a matter of time before the ravenous wolves that are lurking in the political periphery jumped at the center and impose their own rule on the people.

But in the last week of February, sensing the palpable scent of domestic trouble, Arroyo unleashed her Gestapo guards and locked-up in cages those who were incessantly barking at her administration. Armed with the recently exhumed "state of national emergency," her allies quickly stomped on and extinguished the growing fires of discontent at Arroyo's flagging presidency. The blitzkrieg tactics paid off: Soon, most key opposition leaders were apprehended and neutralized, and the president once more triumphantly beat her chest in a savage cry of victory.

To keep the "destabilizers" on a leash as the government consolidates power, the Philippine authorities started weeding out military officers and officials who are critical of the Arroyo leadership. The top brass, acting on orders from Malacanang, sacked one reformist and untainted general of the elite Army Scout Rangers, Danilo Lim, and placed him on an indefinite detention. When another career-oriented and progressive military exec, Col. Ariel Quirobin, protested and questioned the legality of the general's dismissal, he too, was cashiered.

Because it is highly politicized and fractious, the Philippine military now is suffering from its lowest morale in years, as model and exemplary soldiers and officers get jailed for blowing the whistle on graft and corruption in the uniformed services. The whole military outfit of the country now is geared mainly towards serving and protecting one over-ambitious and power-hungry individual -- President Arroyo. Advancement and promotion is now based not on loyalty to the country, but on loyalty to one egotistical person that claimed to be the best leader the Philippines had to advance the nation to economic prosperity and greatness.

But the very best act that Arroyo has performed so far is to summon the ghosts that have plagued the Filipinos for decades. Whatever gains were made by her self-serving supplications to calm down the growing clamor for her to step down were swept away by the uneasy silence that grips the land.

The Philippines seems to have been hurled back into the stone ages. Although the national emergency proclamation was rescinded under pressure from Washington, still the Arroyo government clamps down on free speech and the press so as to prevent further attacks on her tenure in Malacanang.

Almost reminiscent of the Marcos era, authorities now ban rallies, demonstrations, and any public gathering that might reach the "critical force" that the Arroyo regime now fears greatly. It must be remembered that in 2001, a huge crowd of the urban poor who were protesting the incarceration of their champion, former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, suddenly turned ugly and surged on the gates of the palace.

Now officials take the lessons of the past to heart. Believing that the media played a crucial part in the ousting of corrupt Filipino executives in the past, Arroyo's political technicians have every reason to fear a free and Westernized press. The major television stations now dominating the local airspace and national broadsheets were told to edit their reports according to government standards and official lines.

All but one, the Daily Tribune, have been intimidated (or paid) by the present despots now holding sway over the Philippines, into keeping their stony silence and turning a blind eye on the various crimes being committed on the people and the host of anomalies that fatten the pockets of those in lucrative positions in the bureaucracy.

For committing themselves to duty by fearlessly reporting all that is happening in the country, the editor-in-chief of the Daily Tribune, Belinda Cacho Olivares, and two other gallant columnists were charged with sedition for allegedly inciting the latest "coup" attempt against the president.

But the more that Arroyo keeps the lid shut on press freedom, the more the pressure for the search for truth will grow. When that pressure grows to an uncontrollable level, it may explode and finally blow her to political oblivion.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Alex Argote

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