Failed State or Outlaw Nation?
Manila, April 25, 2007
On the surface the tourist sees a nation of ready smiles inhabited by poor
but amiable natives always ready to help, always willing to carry the foreignersâ€™ bag. Dig
a little deeper and the image changes to a nation where life has become cheap, assassins
are hired for pittances to eliminate bothersome neighbors, political opponents, commercial
competitors and, most of all, so it appears, those journalists and leftist activists who had the
insolence to challenge the way things are.
Today criticizing crooked officials and crooked administrations in the
Philippines is not just unhealthy but can be downright fatal judging by the fifty-one journalists
murdered over the last five years and the hundreds of activists who became victims of
The bulk of the victims denounced endemic evils in this nation:
Corruption, bribery, nepotism, blatant misuse of the justice and the electoral process. Those
targeted by journalistic exposes often did not even bother refuting allegations of wrongdoings.
Instead they applied a far more convincing remedy: The hired gun.
Last year the Paris-based Reporters sans Frontieres stated after Iraq the
Philippines is the most dangerous country for journalists.
In January this year a government inquiry blamed maverick soldiers and
their commanders for the majority of murders of â€˜leftwing activists.â€™
In a front page story the Philippine Daily Inquirer asked if the country was
not moving â€˜into the category of a failed state in the wake of the incapacity of an avowedly
democratic regime to halt the wave of extrajudicial killings since 2001â€™ (when President
Macapagal Arroyo ousted President Josef Estrada after the military withdrew its support from
Estrada and backed Arroyo).
No one is ever brought to justice for these killings, perhaps not surprisingly
in a country where the balance of justice has always been weighed heavily in favor of the
powerful and the rich while hired guns appear to enjoy a particularly charmed existence as
untraceable - or protected - ghosts.
The inability to catch the killers is encouraging for those anxious to settle
their own minor scores or those anxious to preserve the status quo of a society where poverty
snowballs while prosperity remains in the hands of a few.
(This month alone 40-year-old Julia Campbell from the U.S. Peace Corps
was brutally murdered during what should have been an idyllic hike in Northern Luzon. Next a
kidnap gang decapitated seven young students working on a new road in the Moslem
stronghold of Jolo after the government had refused to pay a 100,000 dollar ransom for their
release. The heads of the students were sent to police in a sack, the headless bodies
dumped in a cart.)
In his book â€˜Failed Statesâ€™ professor Noam Chomsky argues states
are failures when they are â€œunable or unwilling to protect their citizens from violence and
perhaps even destruction. They regard themselves as beyond the reach of domestic or
international law, hence free to carry out aggression and violence.â€� He argues such states
(and he does not exclude the USA) suffer from what he calls â€˜a serious democratic deficit.â
Of course failed states are quick to smother their failure in fake calls for
justice. Each time a journalist is assassinated President Arroyo orders the Philippine
Constabulary to hunt down the killer or killers, an order apparently ignored. These token calls
for justice percolate down to the provinces where the mayor of one provincial town offers a fat
reward for finding the killer of a radio commentator who had lambasted that very same mayor.
The lack of success in catching the assassins is further evidence, if needed,
Philippine democracy is either toothless or a failure.
The very inertia of the â€˜democratic institutionsâ€™ increases outrage and
frustration among the military. Filipino servicemen and women are poorly armed, poorly
trained, poorly fed and very poorly paid but they are expected to bleed year after year in the
permanent war against the communist New Peoples Army (NPA) and Moslem radicals on
Mindanao Island. On the other hand the militaryâ€™s top brass enjoys privileges and wealth,
payback for supporting the presidency, this in a nation where the last five presidents were
ousted by civilian-backed military coups and only one president, Fidel Ramos, entered and
exited the presidency properly. But he was a general.
Military coups, abortive coups and rumors of coups have dogged Filipino
administrations for the last twenty years. Constitutionally empowered â€˜to protect the peopleâ
€™ the Armed Forces are in constant turmoil over who the real enemy is. And given the
current level of frustration with the state of the nation no one should be surprised if the military
- one of these days - takes over the country and launches the type of â€˜purificationâ€™
campaign sure to enrage the advocates of human and democratic rights. Particularly noisy
will be those among the ousted â€˜democratsâ€™ who have been turning blind eyes to the
daily violations of those rights. (ends)