Among men and women of goodwill, the end of the old year and the coming of a new one is an occasion for hope. Hope is the one thing Filipinos claim to have never run out of. They’ve pretty much run out of everything else, whether it’s jobs, stability, pride, or, among 3.3 million families, food.

Since 1946 Filipinos have seen their country steadily sliding from relative prosperity to Bangladesh-level penury. They’ve witnessed how a rapacious political class is savaging the political system and made it into their private profit-making enterprise. Elections have become a painful joke, a mockery of the people’s will, and dependent on money, violence and Commission on Elections innumeracy.

The educational system, once the country’s pride, is in virtual ruins for lack of state support. Physical education teachers teach math. Math teachers teach English. Substandard schools multiply like mushrooms. Over a hundred colleges and universities with hardly any facilities offer journalism and broadcasting programs taught by unqualified faculty.

The country’s neighbors have prospered, among other reasons because of the priority they’ve put on education. At least one has progressed to the point of first world status, while the Philippines slips into the fourth world of mass hunger, unemployment and misery, fed only with words that mean nothing.

Ten percent of the country’s population are abroad, either as immigrants or overseas workers. While sustaining the economy with remittances, this exodus has created a gigantic brain and manpower shortfall in critical sectors like education and health. Meanwhile, corruption has metastasized from the highest levels of the bureaucracy down to its lowest, and spread as well into the private sector and practically every aspect of daily life.

In response to the social and political unrest these have spawned, the state has made repression its first and last resort, thus contributing to the breakdown of the very law and order it is its responsibility to maintain. As part of its desperate efforts to remain in power, a regime in many ways worse than the Marcos dictatorship ever was has also made subservience to the United States into a fine art, and protects US nationals while demonizing its own in exchange for lukewarm US support.

The key to any reasonable prediction of what can happen in 2007 is the singular focus of the Arroyo regime on its political survival. It proclaimed a state of emergency last February to further that goal, and began an assault on civil liberties that’s continuing to this day. The same obsession with power—as well as to divert attention from the Arroyo legitimacy crisis—drove it to cook up the misnamed “People’s Initiative”, and later, to goad its congressional allies into violating the House of Representatives’ own rules so they could call a constituent assembly without Senate participation.

Thanks to the opportunism and moral vacuity of a Church hierarchy that has blocked progress and change for four centuries, the regime remains incorrigibly committed to charter change, which if pursued in the coming months would postpone the May 2007 elections.

If it does not postpone the elections, the regime will pull out all the stops to win in May, and that means its use of every means available, whether money, power or violence, to make its candidates win. It won’t solely be because an opposition sweep will mean a repudiation of the regime. The more pragmatic reason is that opposition dominance in Congress will mean Mrs. Arroyo’s impeachment and trial for electoral fraud, corruption, betrayal of the public trust, and human rights violations.

If the election goes through because of public demands, the bases for polls that would be exceptionally violent even for the Philippines are being laid not only by the regime’s determination to win at all costs. It is also likely because of, this early, the effort by such regime devotees as Norberto Gonzales and the Armed Forces chain of command to in effect encourage further assaults on left-wing party list groups by identifying them with the armed rebel groups.

There is no indication that the regime cares about the gathering storm of international opinion against the political killings that have flourished during its watch. This indifference has led to a growing harvest of killings among politicians, as killers are encouraged by the impunity enjoyed by the assassins of political activists. Both types of killings will continue as regime desperation grows.

In addition to the use of violence by hired goons and the police and military, the regime will once again use government funds and its control over the Commission on Elections to insure “victory” in the polls. But the consequence will be political turmoil serious enough to challenge regime survival through protest actions by the vast array of groups opposed to it, as well as the withdrawal of support by the considerable number of estranged and outraged police and military junior officers.

The US is meanwhile closely watching developments and fast developing reservations about the capacity of the regime to hold on to power, the Nicole rape case being a possible watershed in its realization that the regime is losing control over the judiciary, which has so far resisted regime pressure to surrender convicted US Marine rapist Daniel Smith.

All these are not lost on the regime. To preempt the elections and prevent its turning into its repudiation and even ouster, failing a renewed effort at charter change it could impose a state of undeclared martial rule under some pretext or the other. But even that can provoke the political upheaval that, uniting the disparate groups the regime has succeeded in alienating, could lead to a new government earlier than later.

The regime will greet such a threat with the violence and brutality it has not hesitated to use in either city or countryside. Things will thus be worse before they get better in 2007, thanks to a regime indifferent to the country’s welfare and contemptuous of the people’s interests, and unprecedented in its absolute dedication to the sole purpose of remaining in power.

Business Mirror

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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