Some, or probably most, Filipinos think 2005 to have been exceptionally bad. Indeed, as the Christmas season approached, more than 50 percent said they didn’t anticipate the holidays to be particularly joyful, primarily because of the prohibitive cost of such fare as ham, with which, together with grapes, apples and Edam cheese, poor and middle class Filipinos associate the season’s festivities.
After all, the year that ends tomorrow was the year during which, said Social Weather Stations in a May survey, 57 percent of household heads described their households as poor, up from 48 percent; while 12 percent said their families had experienced hunger at least once in the previous three months.
It was also in 2005 when the number of Filipinos who want to leave the country increased from a previous 20 percent to 33 percent, or one third of the population. Some ten percent of the population are already abroad either as immigrants or contract workers. But the number of nursing and care-giver schools increased in 2005 to accommodate the demand for training among health workers lining up for jobs in the United States and Europe.
To make the brain-drain even worse, the recruiting agencies also intensified their efforts to recruit teachers for jobs abroad, particularly in the United States, where a teacher shortage has led to the hiring of more and more foreign teachers.
It was also another bad year for human rights, with apparently state-orchestrated political killings continuing, and claiming the lives of leaders and members of activist organizations including the head of the Hacienda Luisita union.
The killing of journalists also continued unabated despite the conviction last November of the trigger man in the 2002 murder of Pagadian City journalist Edgar Damalerio. The 2004 toll of 13 journalists killed was the worst on record. But 2005 wasn’t too far behind with 10 journalists killed, validating the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists’ description of the Philippines as “the most murderous” place for journalists.
But the worst thing about 2005 is that, while it’s likely to be footnoted in history as the year when the political system was stripped of practically all its pretensions as the pillar of democracy, it was also the year when political apathy achieved new heights—and when the legacies of People Power, such as they are, were under the most serious, systematic attack.
The paradox was that all these are inextricably linked together. Since 1986, People Power has been the main instrument in correcting the errors of a flawed political system, which in 1972 allowed the making of a dictatorship, and in 1998 made a clueless high roller president.
But in 2005, not only was People Power dismissed and even openly disdained as a solution to the political crisis. The political elite’s campaign for constitutional amendments also sought to reverse the progressive focus of People Power’s most concrete achievement (the 1987 Constitution) on human rights, broader representation, and the defense of Filipino patrimony from the onslaught of globalization.
The “Hello Garci” tapes and what they revealed about the ease with which elections can be manipulated were crucial indicators that Philippine democracy is more rumor than reality. While the indicators of democracy include such other factors as a free press, credible elections are after all generally held to be basic to any country’s democratic pretensions.
They are the most severely affected in terms of the corruption and bad policies that have led to inflation, poor economic performance and the fiscal crisis that has savaged such social services as education and health but which led to higher taxes they have had to shoulder. But in 2005 the middle class and the poor, because they were focused on survival, abandoned the political field to the Church, the business community and the traditional politicians despite the efforts of the militant groups to replicate EDSA 1 and 2.
Although the progressive wings of the Church and business did demand Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s resignation, the divisions in Church and business led in the preeminence of the politicos, who, as expected, killed the impeachment complaint in Congress last September.
Even more crucially, the wheeling and dealing among the politicians– as exemplified in the Ramos-Arroyo agreement of July 8 in which Arroyo would support constitutional amendments– has led to proposals to amend the 1987 Constitution that, while seemingly reformist, will actually make reform impossible by assuring the absolute monopoly of the political dynasties over the country’s governance.
But the truly bad news is that no one seems to have noticed that what happened in 2005 was the complete reversal of the reformism that because of the martial law experience had taken tentative root in Philippine politics—with, of course, the help of the 1987 Constitution, which, among other progressive provisions, sought to broaden political participation through the party-list elections.
The result of this unremarked, but nevertheless real development is likely to show by mid- 2006, when the amendments the politicos in Malacanang and the House want so that they can recover exclusive control over the political system without the minor annoyances of party-list questions on the House floor could be up for ratification. The year 2006 will be the year when all doors to reform—only partially open since 1986—were finally shut by a corrupt, power-crazed and incorrigible political class.