State of emergency is no solution to unrest
27 February 2006 12:00 am
The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) strongly condemns the declaration of the state of emergency in the Philippines. At the same time, we also condemn the attempted military take-over, which the declaration was based upon. Both are actions that undermine the already weak democratic processes in the Philippines. These acts have muddled the distinction between the widespread clamor for truth, accountability and the legitimacy, and the misguided and politically motivated attempts of some sectors for power.The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) strongly condemns the declaration of the state of emergency in the Philippines. At the same time, we also condemn the attempted military take-over, which the declaration was based upon. Both are actions that undermine the already weak democratic processes in the Philippines. These acts have muddled the distinction between the widespread clamor for truth, accountability and the legitimacy, and the misguided and politically motivated attempts of some sectors for power.
In announcing the state of emergency on national television, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has stated that “the plot has been dismantled”. Thus, she has contradicted her government’s reasons for declaring the state of emergency if the plot has been uncovered and effectively stopped. Because of this, Proclamation 1017 declaring the state of emergency only appears as a desperate ploy of the President Arroyo to maintain power and crackdown on her political opponents.
Furthermore, General Order No. 5 of Proclamation 1017 empowers the military and police “to immediately carry out the necessary and appropriate actions and measures to suppress and prevent acts of terrorism and lawless violence”. Such a broad and ambiguous mandate endangers legitimate and peaceful acts of protest, and restricts basic civil liberties. In declaring a state of emergency, the Philippine government has blurred the clear delineation of legitimate dissent and threats to democracy.
Direct evidence that the state of emergency has begun to violate basic human rights and civil liberties include the following: the violent dispersal of peaceful protests, the raid of the offices of a newspaper, and arrests of civil society leaders and one parliamentarian. The chief of the Philippine National Police has also declared that there is an effective ban on rallies because of Proclamation 1017. Thus, claims made by certain government officials that human rights and the rule of law will be respected have been rendered meaningless and hollow.
Despite assurances that civil liberties are still intact, undeclared components of the state of emergency are prejudicing the Philippines’ obligations under international human rights law.
In the end the state of emergency will only serve to deepen polarization of the Philippine political situation and aggravate the national crisis. It must be emphasized that the current wave of instability is rooted in questions about the legitimacy of the Presidency based on accusations of electoral fraud and the illegal use of government funds for her campaign during the 2004 elections. The government has used its political machinery and some questionable measures (such as Executive Order 464) to prevent attempts by the legislature to investigate these charges. Overall, human rights violations in the country have intensified with the implementation of the “calibrated pre-emptive response policy” towards protests calling for her ouster and the marked rise in killings of human rights defenders and leftist political activists. These actions are a direct attack on free speech and freedom of assembly, and these have intensified through Proclamation 1017.
This weekend, events have taken a turn for the worst because these doubts on President Arroyo’s legitimacy remain unresolved. As long as these persist, vested interests in the political landscape can use these to indulge in adventurism, foment unrest and as a pretext to grab power.
Still, FORUM-ASIA reiterates that any unconstitutional attempt by the military and other sectors to takeover government through undemocratic and forceful means must be rejected. It is not a solution to problems of legitimate or effective governance, but will only aggravate the situation. Such means must only be seen as naked attempts of some sectors to grab power for their own selfish ends.
That these events are happening on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the people power revolution is the most ironic and saddest aspect of these developments. The state of emergency and the attempted military mutiny are the starkest reminders that the legacies of the Marcos dictatorship still haunt the Filipino people. And most telling indicator is the nearly verbatim similarity between President Arroyo’s Proclamation 1017 and the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos’s Proclamation 1081 in justifying and declaring the state of emergency.
The state of emergency also sets a bad precedent for Asian democracies and for democratizing states in the region.
FORUM-ASIA joins the Filipino people in calling to protect the democratic gains of the country since 1986. We call on the Philippine government to:
- Rescind Proclamation 1017 declaring the state of emergency since the threat has been neutralized.
- Restore and guarantee all civil liberties and human rights guaranteed under the 1987 Constitution.
- Resolve and address all charges of electoral fraud and illegal use of government funds in the 2004 elections.
- Reform the Philippine political and electoral processes to ensure greater participation and responsiveness to the needs of the Filipino people.
Anselmo Lee, Executive Director at firstname.lastname@example.org or
Edgardo P. Legaspi, Focal Point on the Philippines at email@example.com for further details