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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: 094 - (26/02/12)


Unfinished business
February marked the 26th anniversary of the 1986 People’s Power revolution (EDSA), which, following the crumbling of martial law and led to the flight of President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, Imelda. It remains an unfinished revolution.

EDSA was not about toppling an oppressive administration; rather, it was an uprising against the excesses of the privileged class that confined the great mass of Filipinos to abject poverty in the face of conspicuous consumption and licence of the wealthy.

Following EDSA, first under first President Corizon Aquino and then under President Fidel Ramos, the Philippines appeared to be moving forward. While both came from the privileged class – Aquino from the landed ‘aristocracy’ and Ramos from the Philippines military – both appeared to be genuine reformers prepared to rein in the excesses of the elite.

Then in 1998, the unthinkable happened. In that year, The Filipino masa elected one of their own to the presidency. Josef ‘Erap’ Estrada was a movie actor who had risen to fame in roles that portrayed the triumph of the underprivileged. People loved the image rather than the persona. The hallmark of the Erap presidency was loutish behaviour from the chief executive, nepotism, excessive carousing and drinking with his ‘midnight cabinet’ and an endless string of philandering liaisons – mostly with young starlets.

Yet, despite this, the Philippines continued to make progress because in key economic positions, Erap had appointed competent administrators who knew how to get their job done.

In the end what brought Erap down was not his personal excesses but rather, the attempt of his administration to open up the Philippines to international competition. There were just too many vested interests in retailing, transportation and services to let that happen.
EDSA II, or the ‘Second People Power Revolution’ in 2001, happened 15 years later in January 2001. Although represented as a second popular uprising against an unpopular president, the truth is somewhat different. Critics saw it as a conspiracy among the political and business elites to replace Estrada with one of their own who would act as a steward for vested interests. Vice president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was sworn in as president even before Estrada had vacated Malacanang Palace.

The manner in which Arroyo came to power was unconstitutional and flew in the face of the rule of law. It was only given a semblance of legitimacy when the Supreme Court ruled ‘The welfare of the people is the supreme law.’ EDSA II was in fact a coup-d’etât.

There is not space enough to describe the excesses that followed during the nine years that Arroyo held on to supreme power. It is suffice to say, that when her term finally came to an end, the people rallied in droves to Aquino, son of the beloved Cory, who promised a return to ethical politics.

In commemorating the EDSA uprising this year, an event that largely went unacknowledged in the latter years of Arroyo’s rule, President Benigno Aquio III acknowledged that the partiality of the judiciary and its willingness to work for the status quo rather than apply an impartial rule of law was in large measure to blame for the lack of progress in tackling graft and corruption within the country. The privileged class was defending its turf. For a reformist government, tackling the partiality of the judiciary is a high priority.

According to the President:
“Our country is now facing a crossroad. In one direction is the weedy path, where the influential holds the scales of justice and those who manipulate the law benefit… in the other is the straight path where the rules are clear, justice favors no one and those who are at fault are made answerable.”

This has been a favoured theme of Aquino for some time and it is no accident that it was reprised during the EDSA commemoration. Chief Justice Renato Corona, a ‘midnight’ appointment of President Arroyo that was made shortly before she left office (in contravention of the principle that a caretaker government does not make such appointments), is facing impeachment before the Philippines Senate.

Congress members aligned with President Aquino impeached Corona last December after the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the government’s travel ban placed on former President Arroyo who, along with her husband, was being investigated for electoral sabotage and other abuses of office. Arroyo wanted to travel overseas for medical treatment even though her condition was not life threatening and treatment was readily available in the Philippines. There were fears that she would flee rather than face court. It is common knowledge that during her presidential term, the Arroyos made major investments in Spain and this was thought to be her preferred ‘retirement’ destination.

The government accused the Supreme Court of acting with haste in that it allowed the administration only three days to respond rather than the 10 days normally granted when such orders are made. Despite the fact that the Court is a co-equal branch of government, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima opted to ignore the TRO and stopped the Arroyos and their entourage from leaving the country. The Court it has been argued – and Corona in particular – showed ‘partiality.

The matter is now being tried in the Senate which is sitting as an impeachment court. Pro Arroyo forces have criticised the Aquino Administration for not respecting the independence of the judiciary and for its preoccupation with politics at the expense of the economy. Such criticism is not unexpected. Those supporting the President emphasise that judicial reform is at the heart of the campaign against graft and corruption. Supporters also point to the improved credit rating of the Philippines – Standard & Poors as well as Fitch Ratings have both upgraded the Philippines since Aquino took office – and investor confidence is at a record high. Supporters also point to the PhP439 billion (£6.44 bn, $10.2 bn) in new investment that has poured into the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) since he took office. This amount represents 22 per cent of all investment into PEZA since 1995.

There is a long way to go still and those used to having their own way, including the Church, are not yet entirely on side; but Aquino still remains the most popular president since Estrada despite his patrician roots – and he is unlikely to make the same mistakes as his predecessor. They are of different mindsets. Once again, the Philippines is moving in the right direction.

Footnote: EDSA is so-called after the name of the street where the uprising took place: the Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue, one of the main thoroughfares of Metro Manila which connects five of the 18 cities that make up the metropolis.
 

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