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Crackdown In The Philippines

Crackdown In The Philippines

By Murray Horton

Ever since she stole the 2004 election (via systematic electoral fraud), Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has faced popular opposition, including massive street protests in Manila, demanding that she resign. The Filipino people invented People Power, the huge non-violent uprising which got rid of the murderous kleptocratic tyrant, Ferdinand Marcos, in 1986. They did it a second time in 2001, getting rid of the even more corrupt President Joseph Estrada (and, ironically, bringing his Vice President, Gloria, to power).

In February 2006, literally right in the middle of the rallies to mark the 20th anniversary of People Power 1, Gloria declared a State of National Emergency, claiming that her enemies of the Right and Left were conspiring together to overthrow her via a coup. Attempted coups or rumours thereof are a regular staple of Philippine political life, due to the central role of the military but nobody believed Gloria's absurd claims that she had thwarted a plot to install a "military-Communist dictatorship".

Be that as it may, State forces raided mainstream papers critical of the Government and ordered the rest to watch themselves. Some military and police officers were arrested. Warrants were issued for dozens of people, many of them exiled or underground leaders of the Communist Party which has waged an armed struggle for more than 35 years.

More significantly, attempts were made to arrest all of the Leftist Party List Representatives in the Congress, all of them with a background in the militant peoples' movements. All but one of them made it to the sanctuary of Congress, where they have been camped out under the protection of the Speaker. The other one, Congressman Crispin Beltran, was arrested and imprisoned. Ka Bel, as he is universally called, became well known to New Zealanders in 1999 when he toured the country as part of the activities opposing the APEC Summit in Auckland.

He was leader of the militant KMU (May First Movement) trade union confederation and remains its President Emeritus. He survived imprisonment without charge or trial under the Marcos martial law dictatorship. Now well into his 70s, he is not in good health.

Gloria lifted the State of Emergency after a week but the punitive restrictions remain in place and Ka Bel remains in prison, in maximum security. Absurdly he has been held under a more than 20 year old charge from the Marcos era, one of which he has long since been cleared. Attempts have been made to jointly charge him and the military arrestees with plotting a coup.

The Philippines Solidarity Network of Aotearoa (who hosted Ka Bel in 1999) urges the New Zealand government to strongly condemn the actions of Gloria and demand that these latest political prisoners be released. Coincidentally, Helen Clark travelled to the Philippines in March for a conference, so she was lobbied by unions, academics, church groups and individuals to personally intercede with Gloria whilst there.

In the 1980s, Clark was very vocal in supporting the Philippine democrats who overthrew Marcos, but the Government's silence 20 years later is deafening. The Philippine people need as many friends as they can get right now.

ENDS


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