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Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 80,574 77,076 71,400 43
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,080 1,020 1,050 135
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Update No: 070 - (18/12/09)


Newcomers to the Philippines, as happens everywhere in Asia, are always targets for advice and “perceived” wisdom from the “Old Hands”. Such advice can take many forms of course; but two items are always high on the list to the point of becoming urban legends: “Whenever somebody high up in government, tells you something, believe the opposite”, and “the Philippine economy never excels above six per cent annual growth nor falters below four per cent.” The four per cent benchmark, of course, refers to the size of the informal economy – which accounts for around 50 per cent of the work force and the sizeable contribution of the agricultural sector to domestic output. These relics from another age keep the economy afloat in times of trouble. Modern services and manufacturing add only marginally to the numbers.

Well, as far as the second maxim goes, 2009 might be the exception to the rule. The good news is that in a year when many economies in Asia were either falling into recession or already deeply mired in one, the Philippines managed to keep its head above water – at least as far as the official figures go anyhow. For 2009, the latest forecast is that the economy (GDP) will grow by around 1.5 per cent. The downside to that of course, is that with a population that is still growing by more than two per cent annually, per capita GDP will fall.

So should Filipinos be ending 2009 pleased that their country has escaped the worst ravages of the international downturn or should they be lamenting the fact that in spite what has been termed by those in the seat of government as the best ever economic performance over the space of a decade, there are now more Filipinos who are poor, hungry and without work than ever before? The likelihood of change any time soon is not good.

In the aftermath of the Ampatuan massacre (reported last month) – in which at least 57 people were killed and mutilated in a clash between two dynastic clans in Mindanao who were competing for control of a province – the Philippines has very little to celebrate as the year comes to a close. Indeed the country has earned a substantial level of international disgust!

President Arroyo has now declared martial law in the Province of Maguindanao. This is the first use of Martial Law since the late President Marcos. Andal Ampatuan Sr, a three-term provincial governor, and his son Zaldy have been taken into military custody and are believed to be the masterminds behind the killings. Survivors, of which there were four, have identified the younger Ampatuan as being at the scene and directing the killing which was carried out by members of their private army and the local police who were under the control of the Ampatuan clan as the leaders of the provincial government. Two other sons were also detained.

Fearing a bloodbath, many residents of surrounding villages, have fled in fear of their lives. Caches of ammunition and explosives have been uncovered and army troops are said to be pursuing around 4,000 armed followers of the Ampatuan family.

President Arroyo has defended the imposition of martial law on grounds of “rebellion” citing claims that Ampatuan’s followers were capable of carrying out bombings, arson attacks and abductions. The first judge raffled to try the case against the Ampatuans in the Manila Court declined to take the case claiming that he would be in fear for his life and the case had to be re-raffled.

President Arroyo has stated publicly, that despite the fact that the Ampatuan family were members of her own political family, justice would be served.

But here it all becomes rather murky and people are reminded of the first maxim when dealing with the Philippines. With an election due in May of next year and Maguindanao under martial law what is the real agenda here? That is the question people are now asking.

Up until recently, there were fears that there would be no election at all next year and that President Arroyo would use whatever means at her disposal to cling to power. All attempts so far to amend the Constitution in favour of a parliamentary government, with power resting with the prime minister, have so far failed. Now an election appears all but certain and President Arroyo herself is running for a Congressional seat in her native province of Pampanga. As the leader of a party that has an absolute majority in the lower house of Congress, she is almost certain to be elected as the Speaker of the House.

The elections to be held in 2010 will be the first ever computerized ballots in the Philippines. Despite misgivings from many quarters as to the hasty and hazy manner in which automation was being foisted on the Filipino electorate, that is how it will be. Not only will the system be untried, untested and unfamiliar, there will be around 300 names on each ballot. The possibility of a system failure – or a systemic failure – are not only possible, but probable. Chaos will possibly be the end result and that will mean a failure of the elections and there will be no new government. More to the point there will be no new senators (twelve seats out of the 24 positions are up for election each three years). A Constitutional crisis will then result.

According to the Philippines Constitution:
“Where no President and Vice-President shall have been chosen or shall have qualified, or where both shall have died or become permanently disabled, the President of the Senate or, in case of his inability, the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall act as President until a President or a Vice-President shall have been chosen and qualified.”

Section 7, Article VII
With the failure of the election, there will be no president and no vice president declared. Since it takes a minimum of 13 senators to elect a Senate President, that office will be vacant also. In that situation, the Speaker of the House assumes control. This puts Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal Arroyo back in the driver’s seat.

But there is also a second scenario doing the rounds and it might explain the Maguindanao massacre. This scenario claims that the Maguindanao massacre was the direct result of meddling by President Arroyo’s advisors in setting the two rival clans competing for power against one another in an attempt to foment inter-clan warfare and an uprising that would force the national government to step in – much as it has done. If a significant portion of the country is under martial law, there will be no elections in those areas and failure of the national election could again be the end result.

The plan went awry both in its ferocity and in the fact that there were survivors who lived to tell the tale. All graves had been pre-dug (using heavy machinery provided courtesy of the provincial government) and had the bodies simply disappeared, the disappearance could have been blamed on the MILF and provided an excuse for the government to wage war against Muslim extremists. Had this happened, the role of the Ampatuan’s would never have been made public. Because of the discovery, President Arroyo had no choice but to backtrack, sound indignant and expel the family from her political circle.
Either way, the stage may be being set for a failure of the 2010 elections. Since there will be no Senate to thwart the plan, there will likely be an immediate call by the House of Representatives to shift to a parliamentary system of government with power vested in the prime minister. Presidents may come and go but she can be expected to then hold that seat just as long as her party retains its majority. And with friends such as the Ampatuans in the provinces that could be a very long time.

This of course, may all be conjecture and we certainly hope it is. But to many people it does have a ring of plausibility to it and that is a chilling thought indeed.

Will the last OFW to leave the Philippines, please turn out the lights.

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