Philippines on verge of losing its already tenuous democracy What others say

Posted: Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Now that she has survived a weekend mutiny, Filipino President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo needs quickly to address the grievances that brought it about.

The mutineers, about 300 soldiers, said unscrupulous military officers had been selling arms to the three main rebel groups. They also claimed some bombing attacks were staged this spring to secure U.S. war-on-terrorism aid and insisted Arroyo was planning to declare martial law as a pretext for staying in office past her mandate in 2004.

All allegations against Arroyo probably can be disregarded. Everything about her past suggests she is an honorable person. The military, however, is a different story.

Graft and corruption have been rampant in the army since the days when Ferdinand Marcos ruled the Philippines. So has ineffectiveness. Even when the army seems to have rebels trapped, often they somehow manage to escape. The unanswered question is whether that has been a result of incompetence or corruption.

It isn't just dissident soldiers who suspect collusion. Marcia Burnham, an American missionary who was kidnapped by terrorists, wrote in a book this year that Filipino soldiers routinely gave guns and ammunition to her captors.

The rebels are terrorists. Some are linked to al-Qaida. For the sake of the entire world, as well as the Filipino people, the collusion charge must be investigated and if it proves true, there has to be a shake-up in the army.

That puts Arroyo is an uncomfortable position. She came to power, not by the ballot box but rather in a revolt backed by the army. She survived the mutiny because of the army's overall backing.

Still, Arroyo's job is to look out for her people not her own political career, which she says will end when her term ends next year anyway.

Actually, it may be in danger of ending sooner. The Manila government says hundreds of military renegades are still on the loose and also that there are assassination plots against Arroyo and others high in government.

The Philippines is a troubled land. There have been nine army uprisings in the past 17 years. The last president was elected overwhelmingly, then overthrown. He has sat in jail for two years, without a trial.

The military intelligence chief this week warned of "deep restiveness" in the 113,000-strong armed forces.

The southern port city of Cagayan de Oro is on Mindanao island, a hotbed of Islamic terrorism. A poll there found nearly 70 percent of the people believe the mutineers' conspiracy theories. If there is not a thorough investigation, Arroyo will lose all credibility and democracy in the island chain, already tenuous, might not survive.

Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville - Aug. 2

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